Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the May 10, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

During much of the day you hear a sweet, rambling, continuous bird-calling from up in the pines a little like an American Robin's monotonous but melodious song. If you look for the singer he may be hard to spot because he's one of those birds who hides himself as he sings. However, he's not shy about appearing at my friends' birdfeeder, and there you can see how handsome the Black-headed Grosbeak, PHEUCTICUS MELANOCEPHALUS, is. That's him above.

This is a species and a song I know well from Mexico, for Black-headed Grosbeaks are winter visitor or permanent residents over most of the country, except for the other side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, so they're absent from the Yucatan and Chiapas. In Querétaro, though, whenever I walked along the reservoir I could count on hearing or seeing them. The eye-catching thing about any grosbeak is the massive, seed-crunching beak.

The Black-headed looks most like the Rose-breasted Grosbeak back East, and its song is similar. In fact, the two species are so closely related that sometimes they hybridize. This is a case where two species have diverged so recently in evolutionary history that there's still a little gene flow between them.

Black-headed Grosbeaks are only summer visitors here. To see the species' seasonal distribution map, read more about its life history and hear its songs, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-headed_Grosbeak/id.