Blue Grosbeak

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday we have a cobalt cousin of the Cardinal, the Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea).

Along the ditch within the field your train of thought derails on a curt, crisp “Tink” spit with force to split the brush and mark upon your attention. The statement receives an encore and several more as you blindly stare into the reeds and weeds for the source of the interruption. With a crane of your neck and a cock of your ear you shuffle closer. Your haphazard trespass is discovered to be unwelcomed as a dazzling whirl of cobalt rockets forth with a flutter of feathers and another, sharper, single-syllable, “Tink!” The indigo UFO skims across the shrubs to settle along a thicket and locks with your gaze before tumbling down within. Quite the common way to greet a Blue Grosbeak.

Blue Grosbeaks are a medium-sized songbird and the largest of our three Bunting species. Like its close cousins the Painted Bunting and Indigo Bunting, and it’s slightly more distant cousin the Northern Cardinal, the Blue Grosbeak is also an inarguably stunning bird to behold. Male Blue Grosbeaks are dyed a deep lazuli blue throughout that’s accented by two chestnut wing bars and fringed with jet-black flight feathers and mask. Females are not so boldly colored but still flaunt a handsome cloak of cinnamon and umber. Both sexes have a short tail, long body, and a heavy triangular bill. Grosbeaks are primarily seed-eaters but, like most songbirds, will gladly gobble up insects when given the opportunity. Grosbeaks prefer to inhabit scrublands, thickets, causeways, stream banks, and field edges and are most fond of overgrown drainage ditches in our area. Here they nest, rest, and forage. Blue Grosbeaks are more often heard than seen, spitting sharp one-note “Tink” calls at anything that comes too close to their abodes. When they are seen, it’s often briefly atop a bush or limb before darting back into the shadows of a shrub. The best time to view Blue Grosbeaks is spring when males stake their territory and sing its defenses.

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