This familiar bird, known by its beautiful, bold colors and melodic song, differs sexually in plumage. The distinctive male, with its black-and-white plumage and rose-pink breast, has earned the colorful colloquial name “cut-throat.” The female, in contrast, is striped brown and closely resembles the female western Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus). Despite the dramatically different appearances of males of these 2 closely related species, both have similar songs and behavior and sometimes hybridize where their breeding ranges overlap along river valleys at the edges of the Great Plains.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is relatively common throughout much of eastern and central North America and lives in primary and secondary deciduous and mixed forest and thickets, as well as alongside humans in parks and gardens. It overwinters in Central and South America. As a result of its use of edge and secondary habitats, it is relatively tolerant of human disturbance to habitats. Historically, the species has been considered both a pest, due to its fondness for tree buds, flowers, cultivated peas and fruits, and a beneficial species, as it eats potato beetle larvae, scale insects, and other insects injurious to crops.
Both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks sing, and both share incubation, brooding, and feeding duties at the nest. The song is similar to that of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) but is sweeter and more varied, and often interspersed with the grosbeak's distinctive “ chink ” call note. This is one of few species reported to sing while sitting on the nest.
Despite the abundance of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, its life history has not been well-studied. Important anecdotal behavioral studies of captive and wild birds were conducted by Dunham (Dunham 1965, Dunham 1966a, Dunham 1966c, Dunham 1966b). Several studies have been carried out on behavior and ecology of this species and the Black-headed Grosbeak in zones of hybridization (West 1962; Anderson and Daugherty 1974; Kroodsma Kroodsma 1974b, Kroodsma 1974c). Several recent studies in Ontario (Friesen et al. 1999c, Burke and Nol 2000, Canadian Wildlife Service [CWS] unpubl.) investigated the reproductive success of this species, including the effects of nest parasitism and forest fragmentation, but few quantitative studies of breeding behavior have been published from elsewhere in its range. Francis and Cooke (Francis and Cooke 1990) studied the timing of migration, especially in relation to plumage variation in yearling males, while Cook (Cook 1991) examined band recoveries and geographic variation in wing chord, but little else has been published on migration routes, dispersal, habitat use, and nutrition during migration and on wintering grounds.