Attracting Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to Your Yard

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Spring is officially here, and the migrants are returning - some very early, I might add, with reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in Ontario already! Of the three species, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are generally the first to arrive on the scene, landing in backyards across Simcoe County in late April or early May. These striking birds are a fan favourite among backyard birders, and lucky for us, they readily visit feeders when provided with their favourite foods and welcoming habitat. Read on to learn how you can attract Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to your yard, and keep them coming back throughout the entire nesting season.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Identification points
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are medium-sized birds with a stocky build, and large, triangular bills. Their size can be characterized as larger than a House Finch, but smaller than an American Robin. Adult males are easily identified by their distinctive black and white colouring overall, and a sizable rose-red V on the breast. Females and immature individuals can be somewhat difficult to ID with their heavily streaked but overall brown and tan plumage, and bold off-white stripe above the eye. Females Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are often mistaken for female Purple Finches, as they are so similar in appearance with grosbeaks being slightly larger in size. Both sexes have a hint in the underwing even from a young age; males flash pinkish-red, while females flash yellow. Males and females have contrasting white patches in the wing and tail feathers. Click here to listen to the lovely songs and calls sung by Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. 

Create bird-friendly habitat

Establishing a bird-friendly backyard means more than just offering proper foods (though that can be a large component), it also includes eliminating the use of pesticides, providing water (see below), making your windows bird-safe, and cultivating native plants. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, along with most other birds species, thrive in areas that have a variety of native plants from tall trees such as maples, to dense fruit or seed-bearing shrubs like sumacs or cedars, to wildflowers that sustain insect life. Having a variety such as this helps to increase biodiversity in your yard, creating habitat not only for birds, but for insects that they rely on as a food source throughout the spring and summer months. 

During migration, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks often fall victim to window strikes. Many of these strikes are fatal, and largely preventable through the use of window markers such as Feather Friendly Window Markers, or Window Alert Decals. These products adhere to the surface of the glass, and help to reduce the reflective area that birds see as sky or trees, thus limiting the risk of collisions and saving lives. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feeding on WBU Safflower Cylinder

Offer their preferred foods
Grosbeaks are named so after their "gross beak", which is very large and triangular in shape, ideal for crushing seeds and fruits. Though, their stout bill is also used for catching insects, which they are quite proficient at for such stocky birds. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will accept a variety of foods from feeders including seeds, suet, some fruits, and mealworms. Here is a list of their favourites, along with preferred feeder styles to dine from. 

  • Foods to offer: Black oil sunflower & sunflower chips both work well for attracting grosbeaks, but a little-known secret to keep them coming is safflower seed - a favourite of theirs and Northern Cardinals (they are in the same family, after all!). These seed varieties can be offered loose or in cylinder form. Some fruits you may find they take to are orange halves or blueberries, as well as BirdBerry Jelly. Live mealworms are readily accepted and appreciated during nesting season, with parents often bringing fledglings directly to feeders for their meals. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will also feed on suet and Bark Butter occasionally, so having those options available is a bonus. 

  • Feeders to use: Grosbeaks are not "clingers" like chickadees, nuthatches, or woodpeckers, meaning that they need some sort of perch when feeding. Feeders that work best for them include open or covered trays, hoppers, larger tubes, or seed cylinder feeders. A few examples of these would be our Modern Rustic Hanging Tray Feeder, FeatherWeight Seed and Suet Feeder, or Seed Cylinder Feeder.

Provide water
Providing a consistent source of drinking and bathing water is probably the most important element you can incorporate in to your regular backyard birding regime. It is a requirement year-round, but is especially important during nesting season to help keep active birds hydrated. Often times parents will first guide their fledglings to a water source to learn to drink and bathe, before even teaching them how to find food for themselves. Bird baths should be cleaned and disinfected with a 10% bleach solution on a regular basis to reduce the risk of bacteria and mold growth. 

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak feeding fledgling

While their stay with us may be short and sweet, we can still help ensure Rose-breasted Grosbeaks thrive in their wintering habitat by drinking bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee like Birds & Beans. Bird-friendly coffee farms allow birds like Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to live in healthy habitats that are rich with life and provide them with what they need to survive so that we can continue enjoying them in our backyards. 

Happy trails!
- Shayna


  1. Great information, Shayna. Hoping to see some of these beauties again this year.

    1. Thanks Carol :) We hope they return to your yard!