Family Cardinals (Cardinalidae)

Least Concern

Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)


French: Cardinal à tête noire German: Schwarzkopf-Kernknacker Spanish: Picogrueso cabecinegro

Guiraca melanocephalus


, 1827,

Tableland, Temascaltepec, Mexico


In the past, this species and P. ludovicianus sometimes placed in a separate genus, Hedymeles, and frequently considered conspecific; they hybridize in overlap zone E of Rocky Mts. Proposed race rostratus (Nuevo León, in NE Mexico) included in nominate. Has hybridized with P. chrysopeplus in captivity. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. m. maculatus (Audubon, 1837) – Pacific coast from SW Canada (SW British Columbia S from c. 53° N, also S Vancouver I) S in W USA to California and to extreme NW Mexico (to c. 30° N in Baja California); winters S Baja California and mainland Mexico.
  • P. m. melanocephalus (Swainson, 1827) – SW Canada (SE British Columbia, S Alberta and SW Saskatchewan) and WC USA (W North Dakota, S through Rocky Mts and W Great Plains) S through Mexican highlands to Oaxaca; winters within Mexican breeding range.
  • Descriptive notes

    18–20·5 cm; 35–49 g. Male nominate race has head, chin and ear-coverts black, narrow orange-brown band on hindneck sometimes extending onto head as... read more


    Male song, from perch and in flight, a pleasant series of ascending and descending warbled... read more


    Various types of generally semi-open woodland, including coniferous, deciduous and mixed forest, e.... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet animal and vegetable matter; stomach contents during breeding 66% animal, 34% vegetable. Recorded items include beetles (Coleoptera),... read more


    Egg-laying begins late Apr to late Jun in USA, earlier dates referring to S parts of range and lower altitudes; no data on resident Mexican... read more


    Migratory in most of range; resident in highlands of C Mexico, from Zacatecas S to Oaxaca, where... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Common or abundant over much of breeding range in North America; common to fairly common in Mexico. In N part of range may benefit... read more

    Recommended citation

    Brewer, D. (2020). Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 28 February 2020).