Pheucticus ludovicianus

Status:  Common regular spring migrant east, fairly common central, rare west. Common regular breeder east, rare east-central. Common regular fall migrant east, rare central, rare casual west. Rare casual winter visitor east.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM12080, 31 May 1895 Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).

This species hybridizes with Black-headed Grosbeak; for a discussion see…-grosbeak-hybrid/.

Spring:  Apr 23, 24, 25 <<<>>> summer (east, east-central); May 4, 5, 6 <<<>>> Jun 6, 7, 8 (west, west-central)

Earlier dates west and west-central are 23 Apr 2016 Cherry Co, 29 Apr 2018 Deuel Co, and 1 May 2020 Lincoln Co.

Later dates west and west-central are of birds not known to be breeding; there are no reports 9 Jun-14 Jul. See Summer.

Migrants generally appear in early May, although early dates are in late Apr. However, one at a Bayard, Morrill Co feeder 22 Apr 2001 had been there about 10 days, and another was early in the west-central in Lincoln Co 1 May 2020. The earliest date for Kansas is 22 Apr (Thompson et al 2011), the same as for Iowa (Kent and Dinsmore 1996).

In the Panhandle it is rare, with reports in the period 12 Apr-7 Jun. As far west as Lake Ogallala it can be fairly numerous in spring; 15 were counted 2 May 1997 (Brown et al 1996).

  • High counts:  80 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 3 May 2012, 61 in Sarpy Co 11 May 1996, and 59 there 13 May 1995.

Summer: Bruner et al (1904) stated that Rose-breasted Grosbeak bred in the eastern third of Nebraska, west to about Grand Island, whereas Rapp et al (1958), while noting that the species bred in the eastern half of Nebraska, stated that “There is evidence that this bird is moving westward through the major river valleys.”  Recent information does not support any further significant westward spread, however. Johnsgard (1979) considered the western extent of the breeding range difficult to discern due to hybridization with Black-headed Grosbeak but noted that Rose-breasted Grosbeak bred west to Holt, Garfield, and Phelps Cos, similar to the western extent of the range of phenotypically pure Rose-breasted Grosbeaks noted by Short (1961). The two breeding bird atlases (Mollhoff 2001, 2016) show minimal change between 1984-1989 and 2006-2011, except perhaps for the western edge of the range in the Loup River drainage, the southwest, and in three Panhandle counties (Box Butte, Sheridan, Scotts Bluff); breeding, however, was confirmed west only to Sherman Co.

Currently, Jun-Jul records are broadly-distributed in the eastern half of the state and west in Platte River Valley counties to the North Platte area, including the Republican River Valley west to Harlan Co (see specific river valley information below).

In the Platte River Valley, it has been present since 2005 in increasing numbers in summer in cedar canyons of southeast Lincoln Co, eastern Hayes Co and western Frontier Co at Red Willow Reservoir; it probably breeds throughout this area (T.J. Walker, pers. comm.). Two immatures, identified by their red wing linings, were at Brady, Lincoln Co 4 Aug 2003, but no adults were seen. Black-headed Grosbeak breeds commonly in this area also (Mollhoff 2016).

In the Republican River Valley, it occurs west to the Harlan Co area; Swenk (1936) found it west to Inavale, Webster Co. West of there, Black-headed Grosbeak and hybrids are common.

In the western Loup River drainage, it is scarce; it was considered an “uncommon migrant of uncertain status” at NNF Bessey in the early 1990s (Bray 1994). There is no evidence of breeding, but recent reports from the western drainage are 29 Jun 2016 Greeley Co, two at a Burwell feeder, Garfield Co 11 Jun 2011, two in Loup Co 26 Jun 2010, and three reports in Custer Co 20 Jun 2009, 29 Jun 2016, and 3 Jul 2016. Mollhoff (2016) showed three breeding season reports 2006-2011 in Custer Co, as in the first atlas period 1984-1989 (Mollhoff 2001).

Breeding in the Niobrara River Valley currently is limited to the lower portion, west to the Niobrara Valley Preserve area where Keya Paha, Brown, and Rock Cos meet; the meeting point of the breeding ranges of Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeaks occurs there. As recently as the early 1980s, Brogie and Mossman (1983) found Rose-breasted Grosbeak common in the Niobrara Valley Preserve, but it appeared only as a spring migrant in May, and “Evidently none stayed to nest.”  However, Youngworth (1955) found Rose-breasted Grosbeak breeding in northeast Cherry Co in the 1930s; Swenk (1936) found it breeding in Brown Co. Mollhoff (2016) showed breeding season reports west only to the Niobrara Valley Preserve area, unchanged from 1984-1989 (Mollhoff 2001). There is a Cherry Co report 16 Jun 1977, and recent reports from Fort Niobrara NWR in northeast Cherry Co 28 Jun 2016 and 14 Jul 2016.

In the North Platte River Valley, there are few reports; this area is well within the range of Black-headed Grosbeak, and reports are likely lingering westerly spring migrants, such as the presence of a male at a Mitchell, Scotts Bluff Co feeder with a Black-headed Grosbeak family 24 Jul 2004. However, Brown and Brown (2001) stated that “it presumably breeds in the [Keith Co] area. No nests have been found, but one bird with a brood patch was mist-netted 16 May.” The only other recent reports west of Keith Co are of one in Gering, Scotts Bluff Co 10 Jul 2013 and reports at Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co 2-13 Jun 2008 and 5 Jun 2010.

Elsewhere in the Panhandle, where Jun-Jul reports are most likely lingering spring migrants or the occasional phenotypically “pure” bird at the west edge of the hybrid zone (Short 1961), there is no evidence of nesting of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks; the few reports are 13 Jun 2009 Chadron SP, Dawes Co, 10-15 Jun 2006 Smith Lake WMA, Sheridan Co, 20 Jun 1998 northeast of Chadron, Dawes Co, 20 Jul 2012 Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co, a singing male in Dawes Co 19 Jul 1979 (Rosche 1982), 8 Aug 1992 Dawes Co, and 10 Aug 2014 Wildcat Hills SRA, Scotts Bluff Co.

BBS trend analysis shows this species has declined in Nebraska annually by -2.12% (95% C.I.; -3.61, -0.67) 1966-2015 while during the same period the Black-headed Grosbeak has increased by 1.31% (95% C.I.; -2.44, 5.02) (Sauer et al 2017).

  • Breeding phenology:
    Nest building: 12 May-24 Jun
    Eggs: 22-29 May
    Nestlings: 8-9 Jun
    Fledglings: 24 Jun

Fallsummer <<<>>> Oct 2, 2, 2 (east, east-central)

Later dates east and east-central are 5 Oct 2014 Dixon Co, 7 Oct 2018 Lancaster Co, 8 Oct 2015 Douglas Co, 10 Oct 2015 Douglas Co, 11 Oct 2018 Lancaster Co, and 16 Oct 2013 first fall male photo Lancaster Co. See Winter.

Extraordinary were an immature male 18-25 Oct 2012 and a female 26 Oct 2012 at the same Lincoln Co feeder.

Reports are less than annual in fall in the west and west-central; there are only 14 reports, all 15 Jul-22 Sep.

Departure begins in late Jul-Aug and is completed by early Oct.


Rose-breasted Grosbeaks appear occasionally at feeders in late fall and early winter. These birds apparently attempted to winter: 22 Nov 1973 through mid-Jan 1974 at feeders Douglas-Sarpy Cos (Williams 1974a, 1974b), 1 Dec 2015 basic plumage Lincoln, Lancaster Co, 31 Dec 1980 Boone Co, and 31 Dec 1980 Lancaster Co. One was found on the Lincoln CBC 17 Dec 2011, an apparent first fall male photographed at an Omaha feeder 7-19 Dec 2011, and 6 Jan 2021 photo Doniphan, Hall Co.

  • High counts:  40 in Sarpy Co 9 Sep 1995, and 18 on MoPac Trail, Lancaster Co 11 Sep 2020.


BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum
NC: Nature Center
NNF: Nebraska National Forest
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SP: State Park
SRA: State Recreation Area
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 21 May 2014 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Anderson, B.W., and R.J. Daugherty. 1974. Characteristics and reproductive biology of grosbeaks (Pheucticus) in the hybrid zone in South Dakota. Wilson Bulletin 86: 1-11.

American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1983. The AOU Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Bray, T.E., B.K. Padelford, and W.R. Silcock. 1986. The birds of Nebraska: A critically evaluated list. Published by the authors, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA.

Brogie, M.A., and M.J. Mossman. 1983. Spring and summer birds of the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska: An annotated checklist. NBR 51: 44-51.

Brown, C.R., M.B. Brown, P.A. Johnsgard, J. Kren, and W.C. Scharf. 1996. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station area, Keith and Garden Counties, Nebraska: Seasonal occurrence and breeding data. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 23: 91-108.

Brown, C.R., and M.B. Brown. 2001. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station. Occasional Papers of the Cedar Point Biological Station, No. 1.

Brown, C.R., M.B. Brown, P.A. Johnsgard, J. Kren, and W.C. Scharf. 1996. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station area, Keith and Garden Counties, Nebraska: Seasonal occurrence and breeding data. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 23: 91-108.

Brown, M.B., S.J. Dinsmore, and C.R. Brown. 2012. Birds of Southwestern Nebraska. Conservation and Survey Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska—Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution.  University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Kent, T.H., and J.J. Dinsmore. 1996. Birds in Iowa. Publshed by the authors, Iowa City and Ames, Iowa, USA.

Kroodsma, R. L. 1974b. Hybridization in grosbeaks (Pheucticus) in North Dakota. Wilson Bulletin 86: 230-236.

Mayr, E., and L.L. Short. 1970. Species taxa of North American birds, a contribution to avian systematics.   Publications of the Nuttall Ornithological Club, No. 9. Nuttall Ornithological Club, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rapp, W.F. Jr., J.L.C. Rapp, H.E. Baumgarten, and R.A. Moser. 1958. Revised checklist of Nebraska birds. Occasional Papers 5, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, Crete, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Sauer, J.R., D.K. Niven, J.E. Hines, D.J. Ziolkowski, Jr, K.L. Pardieck, J.E. Fallon, and W.A. Link. 2017.  The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015 (Nebraska). Version 2.07. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland, USA.

Short, L.L., Jr. 1961. Notes on bird distribution in the central Plains. NBR 29: 2-22.

Sibley, C.G., and B.L. Monroe, Jr. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world.  Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

Silcock, W.R. 1995. Spring Field Report, March-May 1995. NBR 63: 34-60.

Swenk, M.H. 1936. A study of the distribution, migration, and hybridism of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Rocky Mountain Black-headed Grosbeak in the Missouri Valley region. NBR 4: 27-40.

Thompson, M.C., C.A. Ely, B. Gress, C. Otte, S.T. Patti, D. Seibel, and E.A. Young. 2011. Birds of Kansas.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

West, D.A. 1962. Hybridization in the grosbeaks (Pheucticus) of the Great Plains. Auk 79: 399-424.

Williams, F. 1974a. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 28: 70-76.

Williams, F. 1974b. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 28: 656-660.

Williams, F. 1984. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 38: 218-221.

Wyatt, V.E. and C.M. Francis. 2020. Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Youngworth, W. 1955. Some birds of the Quicourt Valley. NBR 23: 29-34.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 15 Jun 2021