Cardinals, Grosbeaks, and Allies

Summer Tanager Piranga rubra
Summer Tanager is a fairly common breeding species in Duval County, with the earliest documented nesting occurring on 15 May 1934 when a set of eggs was collected and sent to a museum (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). As of 2020, they are still regular (but declining) breeders in the area, and can best be found on territory at places like Branan Field Wildlife and Environmental Area, Fort George Island, Sheffield Regional Park, and Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. In mid-April, begin listening for their diagnostic ‘dripping’ call from about 1/4 mile away from the entrance to Kingsley Plantation and basically all around the surrounding area then leading up to Kingsley. At Seaton Creek Historic Preserve, they can be found along the main trail leading from the parking lot anywhere within that first half mile, and then throughout the large area deeper into the park. In addition to Sheffield Regional Park, you can find them along Houston Avenue on Big Talbot Island and in the pine forest of Taye Brown Regional Park.

Summer Tanagers have also been known to winter in the area as far back as 1953, and are reported from backyard feeders in town each winter. Curiously, there is one known record from the month of November – a bird reported by Grimes on 5 November 1967. In early 2015, Marie and I found one in the parking lot of Blue Cypress Park, but they should not be necessarily expected in winter months. Look for them readily between 15 April and early August for your best chance at finding them.

Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea
Scarlet Tanagers are uncommon but regular migrants in the Jacksonville area, and are more often missed in any given year by local birders than seen. On 8 March 1982, Virge Markgraf reported one that was the earliest arrival in state history at the time (Kale, 1982). They normally arrive in mid-April and pass through over the next three weeks; after the first week of May they are gone. They’re more common in fall and pass through for about two weeks longer; look for them from the last week of September through the end of October. On 8 October 1966, Grimes reported a remarkable 30 birds of the species in one patch (Stevenson, 1967). A record of one on 25 November 1974 is the latest known county record (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). There are no known winter or summer observations.

There are scattered reports over the years at places like the UNF Nature Trails and Hanna Park, but Reddie Point Preserve and Fort George Island are the predominant locations to find them. At Reddie Point, they seem to favor the parking lot area near the mulberry trees and the wooded trail that bisects the main and marsh loop trails. Cedar Point Preserve is another very likely spot for them, but the location is extremely under-birded.

Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana
The earliest record of Western Tanager in Jacksonville is one that arrived 21 March 1972 and remained at least through the end of that season (Stevenson, 1972). The second known report is from 3 October 1979 (Atherton & Atherton, 1980), and another was recorded a few months later from 4-6 March 1980 (Kale, 1980); 20 years passed before the next report, which came from Julie Cocke on 7 October 2000 (Pranty, 2001). Cocke then also recorded the next one on 16 January 2004, and Clark had one on Fort George Island on 17 September 2005. Four years later, Clark had another there on 10 October 2009, and six months later Donald Pridgen reported one from Hanna Park on 30 April 2010. Carly Wainwright graciously hosted a young bird at her feeders in March 2013, and allowed many local birders to come view the bird. On the 2013 Christmas Bird Count (December 28) I found one deep in the oak hammock at Cedar Point Preserve, providing the first (and only) CBC record of the species for the county. In March 2014 and 2015, a resident in Mandarin reported one coming to their feeders, and noted that the bird was present for months both years. In 2016, a remarkable two birds visited the feeder area at the Jacksonville Zoo’s education center from 27-30 January 2016. Since 2016, there have been reports each winter from various residential feeding stations throughout the county.

As you can see, Western Tanagers are rare in the county and all but two observations were of birds visiting feeders. There may be enough of a pattern to suggest September/October and March/early April are good times to keep your eyes open for them, but they shouldn’t be expected. Locals should try keeping jelly and orange feeders out in residential areas during winter to see if they can attract one.

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Northern Cardinal is one of most abundant species and can be found year-round in almost any habitat. They occur on a whopping 50-70% of all eBird checklists submitted in Duval County, and you will have no trouble finding them anywhere you find yourself birding.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus
The earliest report of Rose-breasted Grosbeak comes from 21 May 1962 and in terms of numbers, high counts include a staggering 30 on 8 October 1966 and 25 birds observed by Julie Cocke on 16 October 1983 (Atherton & Atherton, 1984).

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks closely mirror Scarlet Tanagers in terms of distribution, abundance, and timing. They pass through in spring from mid-April through the first week of May, and again in fall from mid-September through October. There are just two known records in winter, both occurring in January. They commonly visit feeders in spring and fall, but perhaps the best place to look for them is Reddie Point Preserve around the parking lot and mulberry trees.

Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus
There are two reported observations of this western species in Duval County. The first was a well documented one coming to the feeders of Jessie B. Hufham from 5-11 January 1986 (Ogden, 1986), and a female visited Julie Cocke’s birdbath a few years later on 12 October 1989 (West, 1990). While certainly not to be expected, birders should carefully study any first winter or female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to be sure Black-headeds aren’t sneaking by undetected.

Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea
Although they were not known to be breeders by Stevenson and Anderson (1994), Blue Grosbeaks are indeed a summer resident breeding species in Duval County and were actually noted as such by Edwards and Grimes in 1966 (Cunningham, 1966). They tend to occur from the beginning of April through the end of October, and there are two known winter records; one from 2 December 1973 and another seen by Mark Dolan at Little Talbot Island State Park on 28 December 1995 (Rowan, 1996). Starting in April, they can be found along the power line cut at M&M Dairy, at Imeson Center, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve, around Sheffield Regional Park’s athletic fields, all over Eastport Wastelands, and Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. They can also be found throughout the west side of town and Julington Durbin Creek Preserve in south Jacksonville. The males are known to sing into late August here.

*Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena
Lazuli Buntings are extremely rare in Florida, and should not be expected in Duval County in any year. There are no known reports from Duval, but there was one reported at a feeder in Ponte Vedra Beach in St. Johns County 20-21 March 1991 (Langridge, 1991). I don’t often include species accounts from other counties in this text, but the extreme proximity to the county line of this exceptionally rare species compels me to mention it.

Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
Indigo Buntings are mostly year round, but disappear in winter months. There’s one winter record from 24 January 1981 at Julie Cocke’s feeders (Stevenson, 1981). There are a handful of observations from February and March, but they really start arriving in April and remain through the breeding season. By the end of October they can be scarce, and the late fall record is of a single bird noted on 24 November 1973. In migration, look for them along the trails at Reddie Point Preserve, Fort George Island, and behind the athletic fields at Sheffield Regional Park. They are limited breeders and in summer they can be found with some difficulty at Sheffield Regional Park and Seaton Creek Historic Preserve. In July 2015, I found juvenile birds around the south end of Fort George Island suggesting breeding at that location as well.

Painted Bunting Passerina ciris
Painted Buntings are one of the most sought after species in Florida, and that holds true in Duval County. The earliest record comes from 19 May 1931, when a bunting’s nest was raided for the eggs to be sent to a museum’s collection (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). On 2 January 1969, Grimes noted one as perhaps the first known winter record in the county (Stevenson, 1969). Today they can be found throughout the year, but are more obvious and abundant during spring and summer, where males tend to sing for months on end. In winter, they tend to be found south of the St. Johns River at bird feeders while in summer the concentration is notably north of the river at places like Little Talbot Island State Park and Fort George Island. Those two locations are the absolute best bet for finding male Painted Buntings in the county. At Little Talbot Island State Park, there are unadvertised white millet feeders behind the building just past the pay station; if you strike out there just drive the road to the south end of the park and listen along the way for singing males (April – early August). The species is rather abundant on Fort George Island, where they can be found around the Ribault Club, on the grounds and Kingsley Plantation, and around the tabby ruins just after you pull onto the island.

Dickcissel Spiza americana
Historically, reports of Dickcissel include 22 March 1962, 4 March-5 April 1965, 1969 CBC, 30 April 1971, 6-16 November 1973, one that wintered from 1972-73, 28-29 October 1976, and one that lingered from 1 March – 5 April 1981 (Kale, 1981). Today, Dickcissel remains an extremely rare species in Northeast Florida and shouldn’t be expected in Duval County, although one was photographed in the western part of the county on 9 March 2011 and another observed near Theodore Roosevelt Preserve on 9 May 2013.  Marie and I carefully observed a juvenile at Reddie Point Preserve on 7 September 2015 (which happened to be my 300th species recorded in the County!). K. Eldredge at photographed one at Spoonbill Pond on 31 January 2016 and I had one flyover in east Jacksonville on 15 March 2016. The most recent record is from 6-7 August 2019, which was a bird attending a millet feeder in the south side area.

While many reports are from individuals visiting feeders, the report from 1971 is of three birds collected after striking a TV tower downtown (Kale, 1971).

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