Rose-breasted x Black-headed Grosbeak (hybrid)

Rose-breasted x Black-headed Grosbeak (hybrid)

Pheucticus ludovicianus x melanocephalus

Status: Rare casual summer visitor west and central.

Summer: There are seven records:

27-29 Apr 2020 male Gage Co (Hill, photographs, pers. comm.)

15 May 2018 Dawes Co (Flack photograph,

19 May 2012 Sherman Co (Freeborn, Flack; ,

23 May 2017 Buffalo Co (Kramer et al,

27 May 2017 Lincoln Co (Kramer et al,

31 May 2019 female Gage Co (Hill, pers. comm.)

4 Jun 2019 Buffalo Co (Fasoli, Lamoreaux,

Comments: This species hybridizes with Black-headed Grosbeak where their ranges meet (Short 1961, Swenk 1936, West 1962). Both “pure” birds and hybrids are found in the zone of overlap (Short 1961), an indication of some degree of assortative mating, the primary reason why these species have retained specific status (Mayr and Short 1970, AOU 1983, Sibley and Monroe 1990). Interestingly, there is evidence that hybrids mate assortatively with other hybrids (Anderson and Daugherty 1974, Wyatt and Francis 2020). It has been suggested that the extent of hybridization of the grosbeaks is greater in the central Great Plains, including Nebraska (West 1962), where densities are relatively low, and habitat is patchy, than in the northern Great Plains, where densities of both species are high, and habitat is extensive (Kroodsma 1974, Wyatt and Francis 2020).

Individuals showing characters indicative of hybridization (West 1962) are widespread in central Nebraska. Short (1961) found phenotypically pure Rose-breasted Grosbeaks west to Burwell and Elm Creek; there was evidence of hybridization in the Platte River Valley from Colfax to Dawson Co, and in Saline, Adams, Howard, and Holt Cos. West (1962) found the greatest incidence of hybrids in the area between Central City and Gothenburg in the Platte River Valley.

Around 1900, Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeaks’ ranges were not in contact; Rose-breasted was found west to the 98th parallel, a line from Knox to Nuckolls Counties, and Black-headed Grosbeak east to approximately a line from connecting Boyd and Webster Counties (Bruner et al 1904). The ranges had met by the 1920s, however, based on hybrid specimens collected in Hall and Clay Counties 1920-1930, and by 1961, the greatest incidence of hybrids was found in the area between Central City and Gothenburg in the Platte River Valley (Short 1961, West 1962). Hybrid specimens UNSM ZM7076 and UNSM ZM7077 were collected at Grand Island, Hall Co 28 Jun 1930 and Inland 18 May 1920 respectively, and another hybrid specimen HMM 2897 was taken at Inland, Clay Co 24 May 1923. A hybrid was in Howard Co 3 May 2015. In the North Platte River Valley at Lake Ogallala, Keith Co, two of five banded birds which appeared to be Rose-breasted Grosbeaks showed some Black-headed Grosbeak characteristics, while the reverse was true of five of 35 Black-headed Grosbeak types (Brown et al 1996). A hybrid male at Box Butte Reservoir, Dawes Co 8 Aug 1992 was described by Rosche and Rosche (1993). Two birds showing hybrid characteristics were banded at Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co 12 and 24 Sep 2009. An indication of the degree of introgression that occurs at the range boundaries of this species and Black-headed Grosbeak was the angry response and appearance by a previously unseen phenotypic Rose-breasted to a Black-headed tape 4 Jul 2016 in Gosper Co.

Hybrids, along with “pure” Black-headed Grosbeaks, were common in the Republican Valley between Orleans and Oxford 23 Jun 1996; “pure” Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were noted west only to Orleans, Harlan Co. A female Black-headed Grosbeak was with a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co 13 May 1995 (Silcock 1995). A male with the red color in its bib replaced by lemon-yellow was at Hastings, Adams Co 7 May 2007.

Acknowledgements: Photograph (top) of a Rose-breasted X Black-headed Grosbeak (hybrid) at Omaha, Douglas Co 1 May 2018 by Richard Pouchert.

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.

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.

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.

Kroodsma, R. L. 1974. 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.

Rosche, R.C., and D.J. Rosche. 1993. Rose-breasted x Black-headed Grosbeak. NBR 61: 91.

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.

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

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.

Recommended Citation

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

Updated 10 Mar 2021