Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Blue Grosbeak

Passerina caerulea

Length: 7 inches Wingspan: 11 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Extremely thick bill, rust-colored wing-bars, dark blue body (male). Females warm brown all over.

Blue Grosbeak - Passerina caeruleaThe Blue Grosbeak is a denizen of thickets and other patches of vegetation in semi-open areas.  South Dakota is on the northern fringe of its breeding range, and Blue Grosbeaks are generally the most common in the southern part of the state. Like many species, they have expanded their range to the north in recent decades, likely in response to a changing climate.It is distinguished from the similar Indigo Bunting by its larger size, larger and thicker bill, and rust-colored wing-bars.  Females lack any blue coloring, with a warm brown coloring overall, but they share the large chunky bill.


Prefers brushy low growth for breeding, preferably in semi-open country.  This can include fence lines, brushy fields, streamside thickets, hedgerows, and woodland edges.  They are often seen foraging along fence lines in South Dakota, dashing into nearby cover when flushed.


The summer diet consists of many insects and spiders, as well as seeds and occasionally snails.  The winter diet consists of a greater proportion of seeds and waste grain, along with insects.


Does much of its foraging on the ground, grabbing insects and seeds from the ground or from nearby foliage, or flying up to capture insects stirred up by its movements.  They will also forage in brush and undergrowth, and low in trees.


June through August in South Dakota, with nesting sometimes lasting later into the summer than for many passerines. The nest of a Blue Grosbeak is placed low in a shrub or small tree, typically within 8 feet of the ground. The nest itself is a cup constructed of weeds, twigs, roots, strips of bark, and other vegetative material that may be available. They will also sometimes use manmade materials such as string or cloth. The female lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after only 12-13 days, and fledge from the nest after 10-14 days.  Given their preference for semi-open habitats, they are a very frequent victim of Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism.


The song of a male Blue Grosbeak is a musical warbling, while they also have multiple buzzy or metallic calls.


Summers throughout much of the southern three-fourths of the U.S.  Winters in Mexico and southward into South America.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of Blue Grosbeak sightings

Similar Species: 

Blue Grosbeak are structured differently, but with their bluer than blue (not sadder than sad!!) plumage, they could potentially be confused with the following two bunting species (click here for more ID tips for these birds).

Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea Lazuli Bunting - Passerina amoena Lazuli Bunting - Passerina amoena
Indigo Bunting (male) Indigo Bunting (female) Lazuli Bunting (male) Lazuli Bunting (female)

Bird Feeders:

Will attend feeders for many seeds and grains.

Conservation Status:

Breeding populations have expanded northward recently.  There are also some indications that they've increased in numbers throughout much of their historical range. The IUCN currently considers the Blue Grosbeak to be a species of "least concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 30th, 2015 - Kingsbury County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Blue Grosbeak photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Blue Grosbeak - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer resident in the southern part of the state, rare in the north.

Additional Blue Grosbeak Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Blue Grosbeak 1 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 2 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 3 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 4 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 5 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 6 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 7 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 8 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 9 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 10 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 11 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 12 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 13 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 14 - Passerina caeruleaBlue Grosbeak 15 - Passerina caerulea