Now is the time when blue grosbeaks make their way through the Panhandle to summer nesting grounds and some will remain to nest here. Blue grosbeaks breed along roads and open areas, building their nests low in small trees, shrubs, tangles of vines, or briars. At least one pair of grosbeaks has nested in a bluebird nest box.
A relative of the northern cardinal, Passerina caerulea is a large bunting with an enormous silver bill and chestnut wingbars. The female is a cinnamon color and the male’s plumage is brilliant blue.
Like painted buntings, these brightly-colored birds favor dense vegetation and can be difficult to spot. They are widespread but not abundant across the southern U.S., and are expanding their range. Some ornithologists think population numbers may actually be increasing for the blue grosbeak.
Males frequently sing a husky warbling song. Both sexes make an almost metallic clinking sound which can be a hint these beautiful birds are nearby. They sing while perched at high points in the shrubs and small trees. They have a habit of twitching their tails sideways.
Blue grosbeaks, larger and stockier than indigo buntings, eat mostly insects, but will also consume snails, spiders, seeds, grains, and wild fruits. The blue grosbeak forages on the ground and in shrubs and trees, and flocks can sometimes be spotted in open fields during migration. They also turn up at bird feeders.
This migratory bird nests across most of the southern half of the United States and much of northern Mexico, migrating south to Central America and in very small numbers to northern South America; the southernmost record comes from eastern Ecuador.
Many blue grosbeaks migrate directly southward from their breeding areas to their wintering grounds. Western birds head over land and eastern birds cross the Gulf of Mexico. Migrating grosbeaks pass through the Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, the Antilles, the Swan and the Cayman Islands, and the Virgin Islands.