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Black-headed Grosbeak
Pheucticus melanocephalus
Anatomy of a Bird

A common and familiar bird of the American West, the Black-headed Grosbeak can be found in mountain forests, along desert streams, or in backyards and gardens. The male and female differ greatly in their plumage, with the male being a flashy black, white, and cinnamon, and the female a drab buff and brown.

Range Map My Photos Of This Bird
2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cool Facts Taxonomic Hierarchy Illustration
  • Despite his showy plumage, the male Black-headed Grosbeak shares about equally with the female in incubating eggs and feeding young.
  • The nest of the Black-headed Grosbeak is widely reported to be so thinly constructed that eggs can be seen through bottom. However, nests are less thin in northern California. Thin nests may provide ventilation and help keep them cool.
  • The female Black-headed Grosbeak commonly sings. The female song is generally a simplified version of the male song. Occasionally, the female sings full "male" song, apparently to deceive its mate about the presence of intruders and force him to spend more time at the nest.
  • The male Black-headed Grosbeak does not get its adult breeding plumage until it is two years old. First-year males can vary from looking like a female to looking nearly like an adult male. Only yearling males that most closely resemble adult males are able to defend a territory and attempt to breed.
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Cardinalidae
Genus: Pheucticus
Species: Pheucticus melanocephalus
  • Pheucticus melanocephalus maculatus
  • Pheucticus melanocephalus melanocephalus
Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley




Adult Description

  • Medium-sized, stocky songbird.
  • Large, thick, bicolored, cone-shaped bill.
  • White flash in wings in flight.
  • Male distinctive with black face, orangish chest, belly, nape, and rump.

Male Description

Breeding (Alternate) Plumage:Head black (sometimes broken by partial or complete eyestripe of bright cinnamon); wings and tail black with sharply contrasting white spots; breast, rump, nape, and flanks brilliant cinnamon; and a patch of lemon-yellow on belly.

Nonbreeding (Basic) Plumage: similar, but dark feathers tipped with buff, hiding much of plumage pattern.

Female Description

Head brown with buffy to white (occasionally lemon-yellow) crown and eyestripe, a pale chin, brown wings and tail with indistinct buffy spots, and heavily streaked body plumage that is dull cinnamon to buff with variable amounts of yellow.

Immature Description

Similar to adult female. First-year males variable, from very female-like to closely resembling adult male.
Song a series of rapidly ascending and descending notes separated by brief pauses. Call note a sharp "chink."

  • Breeding Location: Forest edge
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: Light blue or green with red brown spots
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 4
  • Incubation Days: 12 - 14
  • Egg Incubator: Both sexes
  • Nest Material: Lined with fine material., Sticks, weeds, rootlets, and pine needles.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless, with sparse down.
Body Head Flight
  • Length Range: 18-22 cm (7-8.5 in)
  • Weight: 43 g (1.5 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Orange, Black
  • Underparts: Rust-brown
  • Upperparts: Black with some white and brown on the wings.
  • Back Pattern: Striped or streaked
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: Cone
  • Eye Color: Varies from brown, to brownish green, to olive-brown.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Unique pattern
  • Crown Color: Black
  • Forehead Color: Black
  • Nape Color: Black
  • Throat Color: Black and rust-brown.
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Short flights wih rapid wing beats.
  • Wingspan Range: 30-33 cm (12-13 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Black
  • Under Tail: Gray-black
  • Leg Color: Black


Food Habitat
Gleans insects from foliage and branches. Will use bird feeders. Insects, seeds, and fruits. Breeds in a variety of deciduous and mixed forest habitats.
Other Names Similar Species Conservation Status
  • Cardinal tte noire (French)
  • Tigrillo, Fro (Spanish)
  • Purple Finch female resembles female Black-headed Grosbeak, but is smaller, smaller headed, has a distinct moustache stripe, a dark bill, and lacks white in wings.
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak male is distinctive with red chest, white belly, and black hood, but the female is very similar to female Black-headed Grosbeak. Rose-breasted Grosbeak has darker, thicker, and more extensive streaking on the underparts, especially in center of breast, is more white on head and nape, has buffy yellow rather than lemon-yellow wing linings, and an all pale bill.
Common. Populations generally slightly increasing.
Video Sources Used To Construct This Page:


  • Hill, G. E. 1995. Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus). In The Birds of North Americaa, No. 143 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

All photos 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.
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