Thursday, May 31, 2012

Black-headed Grosbeak!

I am always delighted when one, or sometimes a pair, of these birds shows up in our neighbourhood in Spring.  They are a western North American species.  My area is about as far east as they come.

By the way, for those of you who have wondered why I have stayed around Estevan these past few years.....this is one of the reasons, along with the Yellow-throated Vireos I saw at Roche Percee Park on Monday.  The vireo mentioned is an eastern species; same situation as with the BH Grosbeak - not found too much farther west or north than here.  Estevan is in that neat corridor where western and eastern species overlap.  Plus, having open water at Boundary during the winter....birding is pretty good around here. 

Anyway, yesterday afternoon my cousin Larry, who lives across the alley from me, and who has a most peaceful, pleasant yard, dropped by to say he had seen an orange/yellow and black bird; not a Baltimore flew into his maple tree.

Well, it turned out to be a handsome male Black-headed Grosbeak  (Pheucticus melanocephalus), decked out in his breeding plumage.  He probably just arrived.  He flew down to have a drink a few times over the next while.  Then, after I managed to get these few pix, he flew up into the top of my front yard elm and sang his beautiful song...over and over.  (All About Birds describes the song as sounding like a 'tipsy robin'.)

A few fun facts about Black-headed Grosbeaks from All About Birds:

- Despite his showy plumage, the male Black-headed Grosbeak shares about equally with the female in incubating eggs and feeding young.  (I like this - equality!)

- Both male and female Black-headed Grosbeaks are loud songsters.  The female's song is generally a simplified version of the male song.  Occasionally, the female sings a full 'male' song, possibly to deceive its mate about the presence of intruders and get him to spend more time at the nest.  (sneaky girl.) 

- The Black-headed Grosbeak's scientific names are both well-suited. Its species name, melanocephalus, means "black-headed.” And its genus name, Pheucticus, refers either to the Greek pheuticus for "shy" or phycticus meaning "painted with cosmetics," fitting for a showy bird that forages in dense foliage.

One last 'cool fact'
In central Mexico, where monarch butterflies and Black-headed Grosbeaks both spend the winter, the grosbeaks are one of the butterflies' few predators. Toxins in the monarch make them poisonous to most birds, but Black-headed Grosbeaks and a few others can eat them. They feed on monarchs in roughly 8-day cycles, apparently to give themselves time to eliminate the toxins.
We have a fair number of Monarch butterflies coming into the area now.  It looks like these grosbeaks migrate along with their occasional food source.

No, the photos aren't exactly clear...when are my photos ever really good?  Ahem, I am a birder not a photographer!!!  That's fairly obvious. 

I particularly like this photo.  I makes me laugh.  Finding birds in huge leafy trees with binoculars is not easy; finding that bird again with a camera and getting a decent photo of that bird, when found, is even tougher.  But I do have some lovely, clear shots of branches and leaves, with bird subject artfully out of focus in the background. 

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