Black-Headed Grosbeak

Pheucticus melanocephalus
Range Map

Related to cardinals, Black-Headed Grosbeaks are birds of western USA in the summer breeding season, though their range extends to southern parts of Canada’s Western Provinces, and south into north-central Mexico. They spend winters in Mexico, where some of their population remains year-round. Male and females of this species both sing, though the female’s songs are simpler than her mate’s. Both sexes share parental duties, including sitting on the eggs. Male birds usually take two years to gain full breeding status, and young males may look more like mom than pop.

When I fed seeds to neighborhood birds in my Southern California yard, I looked forward to visits from these birds as they migrated north in spring. Some years I heard their songs all summer, leading me to suspect they nested near my home. While most of my meetings have been in Southern California, I’ve enjoyed run-ins with them in Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico.

Based on a difference in bill size, modern taxonomists recognise two subspecies of Black-Headed Grosbeaks. Future research may change this view:

  • P. m. melanocephalus breeds in the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin, from southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan (Canada), south to Oaxaca in the southern Mexican Plateau.
  • P. m. maculatus breeds along the Pacific Coast from southern British Columbia (Canada) to northern Baja California (Mexico).

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