This afternoon, a little while after I’d got home, I went back out to my car to retrieve my camera, which hadn’t made it in on the first trip. As I returned to the car I noticed that the apple trees were starting to bloom. Somehow I’d missed noticing that they were even coming in to bud – I haven’t been spending too much time wandering about at home, since I spend six hours every day wandering around outside as part of the banding job. So I moseyed over to check them out, and that’s when I saw this guy, tucked into the foliage. I scrambled to pull out my camera from its shoulderbag, and switch out the lenses to the telephoto.
There were actually two of them, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. And they were either very distracted, or not too concerned about my presence. They went on with their business as I snapped away. This pair (both males) are the first ones I’ve seen this year. They’re not an uncommon species, but they’re so flashy that it’s always a delight to see them.
They appeared to be foraging on the not-quite-opened flower buds on the apple and cherry trees. I’m not sure whether they were after the flower itself, or perhaps the nectar reward that would be at the base of the bud. They would drop all the petals as they “chewed”. I stayed and watched them for about 15 minutes, and during that whole time they remained in these fruit trees.
We haven’t kept our feeders stocked this spring, but Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will come to feed on sunflower seed. I always enjoy seeing their bright colours adorning the feeder. Those big mandibles are designed for cracking large seeds and hard-shelled food items. As a bird bander I can provide a first-hand testimonial that there’s a lot of power in that beak! They’ve got dexterous necks, however, and it’s really hard to keep your hands out of beak-range while you’re handling them.
They’re returning about when I would expect them to. The northern part of their winter range is in Mexico, and some will spend the non-breeding season as far south as Ecuador. The ones that are returning now are most likely the Mexico birds. Generally speaking, birds that winter farther north will return sooner to their Canadian breeding ranges. Species that spend the winter in the north to mid-US will be back by late March, those in southern US probably by mid-April.
They were still there when I finally turned to go inside. They’ll be resident here; if not these individuals, then some others, settling down to nest in our woods and woodland patches. Even though they’re not all that uncommon, the novelty never seems to wear off in seeing them.