Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, sometimes known as the Red-breasted Grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus, photographed in Houston, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 12 April 2010 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/200s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Beginning birders: can you name the species?
Intermediate birders: can you name the bird whose song is sometimes mistaken for this species’ song?
Advanced birders: can you name at least one other species that you will find breeding in the same type of habitat as this species?

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Sarah
    April 21, 2010

    Oh, this is one of my favorite birds! They nest in my Connecticut backyard and sometimes visit my feeders. I’m a singer, and I always like Peterson’s apt description of this bird’s singing — like “a robin who has had voice lessons.” Allegro, leggiero, e molto dolce. (Fast, flexible, and very sweet.) And may I add – this is one bird whose name describes it very precisely.

  2. #2 arby
    April 21, 2010

    They are only migrants for me, I might get only one day of song before they continue their journey. It’s as close as I get to a robin’s song, too woodsy for robins. I have to make do with, as Mr. Peterson says, “a robin with a sore throat”, the Tanager. These guys are only sometime migrants, I haven’t seen a single one this year. The wood thrush is my only vocal comfort. rb

  3. #3 Natasha
    April 21, 2010

    Red breasted grosbeaks are some of the most striking and easy to id as the field mark on the male is of course the red breast. I was birding on High Island near Galveston during the height of migration season many years ago. A strong storm had come through during the night. That morning I counted at least 30 of these little guys birds washed up on the shore — they must have been caught in it and somehow could not make it to safety….

  4. #4 psweet
    April 21, 2010

    Interesting description, Sarah, I usually think of these guys songs as like a Robin on too much coffee — fast, anxious, wired.

    And another species might be Orchard Oriole — I remember doing a point count in Pennsylvania with a Robin, an Orchard Oriole, and one of these all within 50 meters, and none of them would take turns singing.

  5. #5 blf
    April 21, 2010

    I haven’t the foggiest idea what it is, but it’s probably not a brick. Maybe.

  6. #6 Adrian
    April 21, 2010

    This was my first ever American bird, a first year male on the Isles of Scilly off the SW of the UK. No I’m not saying which year.

  7. #7 Sarah
    April 21, 2010

    psweet, perhaps because I’m a soprano who likes to sing coloratura-type music (fast and high and agile), I like the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak’s quick warble. The tone is sweet and clear and I love that.

    One of my most meorable birding moments was about 30 years ago, on a walk through my neighborhood “patch,” I came across a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Baltimore Oriole **all on the same branch, within 3 feet of each other!!** allsinging away at the top of their little lungs. This was in a blossoming apple tree on a lovely May morning. I could not believe my eyes and ears! Serendipity.

  8. #8 travelgirl
    April 21, 2010

    the pacific northwet had one show up for two weeks in a friend’s backyard… lovely bird…

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