Birds – The Rose-breasted Grosbeak

(Habia ludoviciana) Finch family

Length—7.75 to 8.5 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.

Male—Head and upper parts black. Breast has rose-carmine shield-shaped patch, often extending downward to the centre of the abdomen. Underneath, tail quills, and two spots on wings white. Conspicuous yellow, blunt beak.

Female—Brownish, with dark streakings, like a sparrow. No rose-color. Light sulphur yellow under wings. Dark brown, heavy beak.

Range—Eastern North America, from southern Canada to Panama. Migrations—Early May. September. Summer resident.

A certain ornithologist tells with complacent pride of having shot over fifty-eight rose-breasted grosbeaks in less than three weeks (during the breeding season) to learn what kind of food they had in their crops. This kind of devotion to science may have quite as much to do with the growing scarcity of this bird in some localities as the demands of the milliners, who, however, receive all of the blame for the slaughter of our beautiful songsters. The farmers in Pennsylvania, who, with more truth than poetry, call this the potato-bug bird, are taking active measures, how-ever, to protect the neighbor that is more useful to their crop than all the insecticides known. It also eats flies, wasps, and grubs.

Seen upon the ground, the dark bird is scarcely attractive with his clumsy beak overbalancing a head that protrudes with stupid looking awkwardness; but as he rises into the trees his lovely rose-colored breast and under-wing feathers are seen, and before he has had time to repeat his delicious, rich-voiced warble you are already in love with him. Vibrating his wings after the manner of the mocking-bird, he pours forth a marvellously sweet, clear, mellow song (with something of the quality of the oriole’s, robin’s, and thrush’s notes), making the day on which you first hear it memorable. This is one of the few birds that sing at night. A soft, sweet, rolling warble, heard when the moon is at its full on a midsummer night, is more than likely to come from the rose-breasted grosbeak.

It is not that his quiet little sparrow-like wife has advanced notions of feminine independence that he takes his turn at sitting upon the nest, but that he is one of the most unselfish and devoted of mates. With their combined efforts they construct only a coarse, unlovely cradle in a thorn-bush or low tree near an old, overgrown pasture lot. The father may be the poorest of architects, but as he patiently sits brooding over the green, speckled eggs, his beautiful rosy breast just showing above the grassy rim, he is a sufficient adornment for any bird’s home.