Black-headed Grosbeak

Scientific Name: Pheucticus melanocephalus

Pictures: (click for larger images)

An adult male Black-headed Grosbeak in the UCLA Botanical Garden.  A group of three was seen in a low tree in the native plant section.  Photo by Bobby Walsh.   4/26/06
Same bird, different view.  Photo by Bobby Walsh.   4/26/06
This bird was photographed in the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, CA.  It looks like a 1st-year male because it doesn't have the full black head.  Photo by Jason Finley, 5/13/06.
Black-headed Grosbeak Illustration.

-Illustration by Robert C. Stebbins from "Birds of the Campus" (1947) by Dr. Loye Miller.

Description: Medium. 7 " in length (beak to tail), smaller than a pigeon.   Kind of a chunky build with a big fat beak.  Females and juveniles have a white stripe above and below the eye, brown back/wings with white stripes on the outside and yellow "armpits" (wingpits?), with a chest that's light brown or orange.  The males have the same patter, except with black back/wings, an orange breast (brighter in Spring), and a BLACK HEAD (but only in the spring/summer).

Sound: Listen to a Black-headed Grosbeak singing and calling!  Link is to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's sound page for this bird.

Commonality/Seasonality: Rare, and only in spring/summer.  Mostly we'll just get some passing through during migration, I think.

Location: We've only seen them for sure recently in the UCLA Botanical Garden, but it's suspected they would also stand a good chance of showing up in the Native Fragment or perhaps the Creek.  When the eucalyptus trees are in bloom, these birds might be found there, gleaning insects from the flowers.

Notes: Despite Loye Miller's hopes, these birds don't appear to spend much time on the UCLA campus.  It's too bad, because they seem like they'd be great birds to get better acquianted with.  The adult males are very flashy compared to the females, and males take 2 years to get their ful plumage so 1-year-old males look entirely different.   When they do come through, they tend to favor Eucalyptus and other rather dense trees (perhaps especially when they are flowering).


The Grosbeaks cross the campus on their way into the hills.  About the first week of July they begin driffting back.  Miss Dorothy Groner reports a nest on Faculty Ridge, May 17, 1944.  I see no reason why they should not some day be a common nesting bird within our limits.

-Miller, Loye.  "Birds of the Campus, University of California, Los Angeles," from University of California Syllabus Series, No. 300.  Text by Loye Miller, illustrations by Robert C. Stebbins.  Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1947.



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