A large (6-7 ½ inches) bunting, the male Blue Grosbeak is most easily identified by its dark blue body, chestnut and tan wing stripes, and large conical bill. The female Blue Grosbeak is brown overall with dark wings and orange wing bars. This species is most easily distinguished from the related Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) by the latter species’ smaller size and paler plumage in both sexes. The Blue Grosbeak breeds across the southern half of the United States and northern Mexico. In winter, these populations migrate south to southern Mexico and the east coast of Central America. Blue Grosbeaks are present all year in the highlands of central Mexico and the west coast of Central America. Blue Grosbeaks breed in and around shrubby edges of deciduous and evergreen woodland. During the winter, this species may be found in overgrown fields and clearings in humid tropical forests. Blue Grosbeaks primarily eat insects and seeds. In appropriate habitat, Blue Grosbeaks may be seen foraging for food in shrubs and low tree branches. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a series of warbled notes recalling that of a finch. Blue Grosbeaks are primarily active during the day.
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Transient
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: BREEDS: central California, southern Nevada, Utah, southern Colorado, Dakotas, central Illinois, southern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and New Jersey south to northern Baja California, southern Arizona, Costa Rica, Gulf Coast, and central Florida. WINTERS: southern Baja and northern Mexico to Panama, rarely northern Colombia and northeastern Ecuador; rare in West Indies east to St. John.
Length: 17 cm
Weight: 29 grams
See Kaufman (1989) for information on identification.
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Partly open situations with scattered trees, riparian woodland, scrub, thickets, cultivated lands, woodland edges, overgrown fields, hedgerows. Nests in low tree or bush, tangle of vegetation, usually about 1-3 m above ground, often at edge of open area (Harrison 1979).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Breeding populations in U.S. are long-distance migrants; northern birds winter to central Panama, casually to South America; fall migration in Costa Rica October-November, migrants depart by mid-April (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Comments: Eats mostly insects, also snails, spiders, seeds, grains, and wild fruits; forages on ground and in shrubs and trees (Terres 1980). Obtains grit from roadsides or streams (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
In Costa Rica, residents usually are in pairs, migrants solitary or in small groups (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Clutch size is 2-5 in north (usually 4). Produces 2 broods per year in the south. Incubation, by female, lasts 11-12 days. Young are tended by both parents, leave nest at 9-13 days. Male feeds fledged young if female renests.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Passerina caerulea
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Passerina caerulea
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
The blue grosbeak (Passerina caerulea, formerly Guiraca caerulea), is a medium-sized seed-eating bird in the same family as the northern cardinal, "tropical" or New World buntings, and "cardinal-grosbeaks" or New World grosbeaks.
The male blue grosbeak is a beautiful bird, being almost entirely deep blue. The female is mostly brown. Both sexes are distinguished by their large, deep bill and double wing bars. These features, as well as the grosbeak's relatively larger size, distinguish this species from the indigo bunting. Length can range from 14 to 19 cm (5.5 to 7.5 in) and wingspan is from 26 to 29 cm (10 to 11 in). Body mass is typically from 26 to 31.5 g (0.92 to 1.11 oz).
This is a migratory bird, with nesting grounds across most of the southern half of the United States and much of northern Mexico, migrating south to Central America and in very small numbers to northern South America; the southernmost record comes from eastern Ecuador. It eats mostly insects, but it will also eat snails, spiders, seeds, grains, and wild fruits. The blue grosbeak forages on the ground and in shrubs and trees.
This species is found in partly open habitat with scattered trees, riparian woodland, scrub, thickets, cultivated lands, woodland edges, overgrown fields, or hedgerows. It nests in a low tree or bush or a tangle of vegetation, usually about 1–3 m (3.3–9.8 ft) above ground, often at the edge of an open area.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: This species formerly was placed in the monotypic genus Guiraca (AOU 1998), but a phylogenetic study using mitochondrial cytochrome-b sequences places this species firmly within the bunting genus Passerina, as a well-supported sister species to the Lazuli Bunting, P. amoena (Klicka et al. 2001). Similarities in behavior, molts and plumages also link this species with Passerina (Phillips et al. 1964, Blake 1969). This generic placement was accepted by the American Ornithologists' Union (Banks et al. 2002).