A Rare Visitor

Working on our Littleton, Colorado, farm this week, I have enjoyed the company of our usual avian neighbors, including house wrens, American and lesser goldfinches, northern orioles and western wood pewees, among the more common, permanent residents. Swainson's hawks, cormorants, great blue herons, white-faced ibis and American white pelicans passed overhead and a host of migrants, including white-crowned sparrows, broad-tailed hummingbirds and western tanagers stopped by on their way to the mountains. But one rare visitor, a male rose-breasted grosbeak, was a special guest and, in my experience, the first to grace our farm.

After wintering in Central America, the Caribbean or northern South America, rose-breasted grosbeaks return to breeding grounds across southern Canada, the American Midwest, New England and the Appalachian highlands. Favoring wood borders, orchards and second-growth forest, a ragged nest of sticks is placed in a tree or shrub and both parents share the duties of incubating and feeding 1 to 5 offspring. Equipped with heavy, conical bills, their varied diet consists of seeds, buds, fruit and insects.

Rare migrants across the High Plains and Mountain West, rose-breasted grosbeaks are known to hybridize with black-headed grosbeaks, a common resident throughout the Western U.S.; as a consequence, they may begin to settle down in our region and sightings will increase acccordingly. Until then, we'll relish the occasional and unexpected appearance of these colorful songbirds.