February 2017

Vol. 45, No. 1

Field Notes: Rose-breasted Grosbeak Chase

Sandy Selesky

Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Photograph by the author.

On May 10, 2016, I decided to check out the status of two soon-to-fledge young owlets in their nest in a tall pine tree behind the main headquarters at Maudsley State Park in Newburyport. I was also hoping to be able to photograph a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, since I had seen a male nearby a couple of times on previous visits to the owl nest. I arrived in the late afternoon and met another photographer friend there. We did see the two owlets in their nest, although I was told they had actually been branching out earlier in the day so clearly they were starting to get ready to leave. As we were walking around the pine trees in the back I heard a grosbeak singing and looked up in time to see a male high above me. I took a few pictures, and then he flew across the street to a tree near the parking lot and back again to another tree near the beginning of the main path leading into the park. I had to lie on my back to get pictures of him as he sat high up on a tree branch singing and posing for me.

Suddenly, as my friend was trying to find a position to also get some pictures, the grosbeak flew out of the tree and within seconds was joined by three more grosbeaks. They zoomed quickly past us toward the field, turned around, and I looked down in surprise as they circled around the lower part of my legs and then flew a bit farther off again, flying faster and faster until a few seconds later all four of them landed about 15 feet from us on a stone wall at the side of the road. My friend and I were too shocked to get any pictures while they were zooming around or circling my legs, unfortunately. It was too incredible an experience! It seemed that three male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were chasing one female, hoping to gain her affection in order to mate with her. When they landed on the stone wall, the three males displayed and seemed to yell at one another.

After a second or two they all took off and the female flew to a crab apple tree alone. I never saw who wound up winning her affections. Since my lens was too big to capture the entire scene, the only image I managed to get was just one of a single male doing his display on the stone wall!

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