Kenn Kaufman on the late arrival of Blue Grosbeak in Arizona

5/25/2018 | 0

Blue Grosbeak

A Blue Grosbeak spotted in April 2018. Photo by Marian McSherry

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Kenn Kaufman’s column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. In our June 2018 issue, he explains the distinct characteristics of Blue Grosbeak and how the species’ migration timing to southeastern Arizona is different from elsewhere in the country. 

Although I’ve watched Blue Grosbeaks in many places, my lasting impressions of them come from southeastern Arizona. They have a different timing there. Across most southern states, from the Gulf Coast to southern California, spring migrant Blue Grosbeaks can be expected in April. That’s true even in western Arizona. But in southeastern Arizona they can be hard to find in April, and they may not be present in full numbers until late May.

Apparently, they don’t have to rush to grab the best territories. Although some start nest-building in May, their main breeding season in that region is late summer. In the southeastern Arizona lowlands, June is the hottest and driest month. Summer rains start in July, and by August the valleys are green again. Blue Grosbeaks are actively raising young in this green season, and some pairs may not fledge young until September.

These late-summer breeders may be early in one way: as morning singers. A few times I was out in prime habitat in southeastern Arizona, well before daylight in August, and found that these grosbeaks were among the first birds to sing. When a hint of light touched the eastern horizon, the rich, husky warbling of male Blue Grosbeaks came from far and near in the thickets. Eventually, other species chimed in. I’ve always wondered: Are Blue Grosbeaks elsewhere such early singers, or is that just an Arizona trait?

Kenn Kaufman’s “ID Tips,” featuring the photographs of Brian E. Small, appears in every issue of BirdWatching. The article above is an excerpt of a column that ran in our June 2018 issue.

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