The 4 Types of Grosbeaks in California! (ID Guide)
What kinds of grosbeaks can you find in California?
The name “Grosbeak” may imply that their beaks are gross, but they are anything but that.
In actuality, the meaning of the name comes from the Latin words “gros” and “beccus,” meaning “large beaks.” This name is fitting since these beautiful birds rely on their thick bills to crack open nuts and seeds.
Luckily, all types of grosbeaks in California visit bird feeders, so you have a good chance of attracting multiple species to your yard. If you’re lucky, you may even see a grosbeak at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
To learn more about other birds that live near you, check out these guides!
Birds of Prey in California! (24 COMMON Species) – Owls, hawks, eagles, etc.
Here are the FOUR types of grosbeaks that live in California:
#1. Evening Grosbeak
- Coccothraustes vespertinus
- Both sexes have a large, thick, conical beak and are the size of an American Robin.
- Males are yellow and black with a prominent white patch in the wings and a bright yellow stripe over the eye.
- Females are mostly gray with white and black wings and a greenish-yellow tinge on their neck and sides.
These birds are one of the most beautiful grosbeaks in California!
Typically, Evening Grosbeaks are found in the northern coniferous forests, and in winter, they can be found in California as they search for food.
Evening Grosbeaks are known for their large and strong bill. They use their robust bills to crack open seeds that other birds are unable to open.
Evening Grosbeak Range Map
In fact, this species will show up at feeders far south of their normal winter range, which provides a treat for backyard birders. You can attract them with sunflower seeds placed onto a large platform feeder, allowing ample room for them to land and eat.
Interestingly, Evening Grosbeaks don’t sing songs! But they do have some simple calls, including sweet, piercing notes and burry chirps, which you can hear below!
#2. Blue Grosbeak
- Passerina caerulea
- Stocky grosbeak with a huge, triangular bill.
- Males are deep, rich blue with a tiny black mask in front of the eyes, chestnut wing bars, and a black and silver beak.
- Females are primarily cinnamon-brown. The color is richer on the head, paler on the underparts; their tails are bluish.
Blue Grosbeaks visit bird feeders in California that offer sunflower seeds. To help them feel more protected, place your feeding station near shrubs and other brush. You’ll typically hear them singing before you see them.
Blue Grosbeaks Range Map
Blue Grosbeaks are very shy, especially around humans, which makes them challenging to observe. Interestingly, both males and females have a weird habit of twitching their tails sideways, although the reason for this behavior is unknown.
Blue Grosbeaks have also been known to “sidle,” where they walk sideways along branches, as seen in parrots.
Listen below as the male Blue Grosbeak sings a musical warble that lasts for 2 or 3 seconds.
#3. Black-headed Grosbeak
- Pheucticus melanocephalus
- Both sexes have large heads, thick beaks, short and thick necks, and a short tail that gives them a compact, chunky look.
- Males are an orange-cinnamon color with a black head and black and white wings.
- Females and immature males feature grayish bills, and their underwing flashes bright yellow when flying.
Black-headed Grosbeaks like to hide in thick foliage and are known to hop around while searching for food. Their giant beaks are perfectly adapted for cracking seeds, but they also use them to crush hard-bodied invertebrates like snails!
Black-headed Grosbeak Range Map
Like other grosbeaks in California, you can attract Black-headed Grosbeaks by providing sunflower seeds. But interestingly, this species has a sweet tooth and is also known to visit nectar feeders! They will nest in your backyard and garden if there’s enough cover and water nearby.
Both male and female Black-headed Grosbeaks sing although females sing less, and it’s not as loud. Listen for a rich song with high-pitched notes from treetops.
#4. Pine Grosbeak
- Pinicola enucleator
- Large, plump grosbeaks. Look for dark gray wings with two white lines across the middle.
- Males are reddish-pink and gray.
- Females and young males are grayish with tints of reddish-orange or yellow on the head and rump.
Pine Grosbeaks regularly visit feeders in California, especially during the winter. If you want to attract them, try using a hopper or platform feeder because of the bird’s larger size. Fill the feeders with sunflower seeds.
They are typically easy to identify if one does land on your feeders since they’re bigger than most other birds.
Pine Grossbeak Range Map
Pine Grosbeaks are relatively easy to find and see due to their slow-moving (some people call sluggish) behavior. In addition, they’re fairly tame and don’t scare easily.
Male Pine Grosbeaks sing a high-pitched warble that goes up and down. Listen below! Females don’t sing very often.
Which of these grosbeaks have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from Birds of the World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!