Be Your Own Birder

How Do You Say Grosbeak?

Even familiar birds can have names that might be confusing to pronounce, and one of the most familiar, yet most confusing, is the grosbeak. A total of 36 birds have “grosbeak” as part of their name, and there isn’t anywhere in the world outside of Antarctica that doesn’t have a grosbeak. From the familiar blue, rose-breasted, evening, and black-headed grosbeaks found in North America, to the circumpolar pine grosbeak, the spot-winged grosbeak of southeast Asia, the hooded grosbeak of Mexico, and the many different grosbeaks in Central and South America, these birds are spread across the globe. Some grosbeaks are aptly named after their ranges: Somali, Arabian, Sao Tome, Japanese, Amazonian, Socotra, Chinese. But how is their common, shared name – grosbeak – pronounced?

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak – Photo by Lee Hunter

The two syllables of this bird name each have a variety of pronunciations. “Gros” could sound like…

  • Grows (rhymes with throws, mows, and toes)
  • Gross (rhymes with dose, post, and most, without the T)
  • Grahs (rhymes with la, spa, and ta, all with an S)

At the same time, while the syllable “beak” might seem to have only one pronunciation, it can actually sound like…

  • Beak (rhymes with meek, week, and tweak)
  • Bick (rhymes with flick, tick, and wick)
  • Beck (rhymes with speck, lek, and trek)
Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak – Photo by Ed Schneider

Put all of these pronunciations together, and you have up to nine different ways to say “grosbeak” – all of which can be correct. But if you’re not satisfied with the idea of so many variations, you can dig a bit further into which pronunciations are and are not more widespread.

In this case, it’s easier to start at the back – almost universally, regardless of accent, native language, or English speaking level, the preferred pronunciation of the “beak” syllable is what you’d expect – rhyming with week, sneak, leak, peek, and cheek. Birders with heavy Danish or French accents do lean more toward the “bick” pronunciation, but even that pronunciation isn’t necessarily universal, and the long E sound is most common.

There is more variation for the “gros” syllable, and both the first two pronunciation options – “grows” and “gross” – are fairly common, while “grahs” is only rarely used. When we look at why these birds have the grosbeak name, however, one pronunciation stands out a bit more.

Evening Grosbeak
Evening Grosbeak – Photo by Sandy Hill 🙂

These birds – regardless of the species or where they’re seen – share one feature in common, their strong, seed-breaking bills. Thick, massive, bulky, stout, large… These are all synonyms for the word gross, making that particular pronunciation more associated with these birds – grosbeaks.

For me, I tend to shift between “grows-beak” and “gross-beak” a bit, though admittedly I lean more toward “gross-beak” myself. That doesn’t mean either pronunciation – or any of the other seven variations – is any better or worse than any other. The birds certainly don’t mind what you call them, and so long as you can communicate what bird you mean, that’s the most important part of any pronunciation.

How do you pronounce grosbeak, and which of the grosbeaks is your favorite? Share your pronunciation preferences in the comments!

Pine Grosbeak
Pine Grosbeak – Photo by David Mitchell

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