What kinds of grosbeaks can you find in Iowa?
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 Iowa 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 Iowa! (19 COMMON Species) – Owls, hawks, eagles, etc.
Here are the THREE types of grosbeaks that live in Iowa:
#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 Iowa!
Typically, Evening Grosbeaks are found in the northern coniferous forests, and in winter, they can be found in Iowa 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. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
- Pheucticus ludovicianus
- Stocky birds with a large, triangular bill. About the size of an American Robin.
- Males have black backs and wings, with a distinctive red mark on their white breast.
- Females are heavily streaked with a white eyebrow and a pale bill.
It’s easy to see how these beautiful grosbeaks got their name. One look at the males, and you’ll immediately notice the bright red plumage topping their white breasts. On the other hand, females can be difficult to identify, as they look similar to many other birds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are common visitors to feeders in Iowa!
They use their huge triangular bill to crack open sunflower seeds. I’ve never seen one of these grosbeaks use a tube feeder; I don’t think the perches provide enough space for them. So instead, the best feeders to attract them are hoppers, platforms, or trays.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Range Map
Rose-breasted Grosbeak males sing to establish territories and attract females. Unfortunately, when the female shows up, the male sometimes plays hard-to-get, rejecting her for a day or two before finally accepting her as a mate! But to make up for this behavior, they give the females a break and help sit on the nest to keep the eggs warm.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are known for their beautiful song. It sounds similar to an American Robin but better! Listen for a long series of notes that rise and fall. If you hear one, make sure to look for the male singing from an elevated perch.
#3. 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 Iowa 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.
Which of these grosbeaks have you seen before in Iowa?
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!