Archive for May, 2005

Blue Grosbeaks in an Old Field in May

Monday, May 9th, 2005

On a warm morning in the first week of May, I watched a pair of Blue Grosbeaks flying around and around an old field in a flashy and fascinating way.

It was early morning as I came to the field on my walk. The noise of traffic from a nearby highway was loud, but the scent of honeysuckle drifted out from the thickets, and a miniature prairie of colorful wildflowers and grasses bloomed along the roadside. The white blossoms of blackberry vines spread across the shrubs and grasses like dusty snow, and birdsong could be heard even over the constant grumble of big trucks. An Indigo Bunting, at least two White-eyed Vireos, a Yellow-breasted Chat, a Field Sparrow, and a Gray Catbird all sang, along with the calls of Eastern Towhees, Cardinals, Brown Thrashers and Blue Jays. Mockingbirds sat silently on the wires and flew down and up again, flashing white wing patches.

A pair of small, dark birds flew low and fast across the road in front of me, one apparently chasing the other, out of some trees and bushes on one side of the road, and into the field on the other side. I watched them, and caught one in my binoculars as it paused in the branch of a chinaberry tree in pale purple bloom. It was a brilliant deep-blue Blue Grosbeak male. But he didn’t sit still long. In less than two seconds, he flew again, chasing the other bird, and when it stopped briefly on the edge of a bush, I saw that it was a female Blue Grosbeak, much more subdued in color, a rosy brown. No sooner had she stopped than the male came up beside her – and she immediately flew off again, with him right behind her.

I stood for almost half an hour on the edge of the field, watching as the pair flew around and around, fast. He seemed to be chasing her, mostly. They swooped around, she paused on the branch of a tree or bush, he flew up and stopped beside her – and she immediately flew again, with him in pursuit. This they did over and over. Sometimes I could see them when they paused, sometimes not, but they never stopped for long. They swooped low, just over the tops of the grasses, and higher, weaving in and out of shrubs and small trees, sweeping over a large extent of the field. His copper wing bars and huge, silvery bill were prominent, and his color was intensely blue. She looked more like a shadow, cinnamon colored, but when she paused on a branch, she looked alert, head held high, feathers on her crown standing up.

Since Blue Grosbeak males may arrive in their nesting territory before the females, maybe they were celebrating her arrival, or maybe their flights were part of their courtship behavior. But I’m only guessing. Little seems to be known about many aspects of the lives and behavior of Blue Grosbeaks.

Though I really don’t know what they were doing or why, the clear feeling I got from watching them was one of sheer exuberance.