The Evening Grosbeak is a grossly beaked bird indeed. Its huge, conical, lime-green bill brightens from pale to brilliant tones in spring. And the bill is supported by a heavy skull and powerful muscles making the Evening Grosbeak a “seed cracking machine!” Have you ever accidentally bitten a cherry pit? Ouch! They are in fact a favorite grosbeak food that are easily cracked and consumed.
Other preferred natural foods include seeds of maple, box elder, ash, cherry, apple, and pines. Buds, flowers, and berries of many trees and shrubs are also grosbeak favorites. Insect choices include the larvae and pupae of species associated with forest trees. At our bird feeders, an offering of Aspen Song® Cardinal or Stripe Sunflower is a welcome sight for foraging flocks of these winter visitors.
Evening Grosbeaks make their homes in the vast expanse of northern conifer forests. This mostly Canadian range slips south into the United States along high elevations. They can be found in the Rocky Mountains, for example. In the east, the mountainous regions of Maine, northern Vermont and New Hampshire, and New York have resident populations. Every few years Evening Grosbeaks may irrupt south into much of the continental U.S. during winter months. This pattern may be associated with the cyclical nature of conifer seed production. Unfortunately, the numbers of individuals and the frequency of their winter visits have declined over the last twenty years.
Evening Grosbeaks seem portly by finch standards. Their short tails only accentuate their proportions. Overall color impressions are a large, yellow finch with black wings and tail. Males have a brown head with a black cap and a bright yellow forehead. Also look for broad white wing bars on the male. Females are generally a more muted yellow, lack the bright forehead, and the wing bars less obvious. Identification for males, females, and juveniles is easy…you can’t miss that bill!
The sounds made by a flock of Evening Grosbeaks are unique, as they perch in the trees and shrubs of your yard and take turns descending to the feeder. Listen for the loud, unmusical calls being made by many individuals at the same time. This jumble of call notes is about all you will hear from the species. The songs we associate with songbirds are not an important part of the Evening Grosbeak repertoire.
The safflower, buckwheat, and black stripe sunflower seeds found in Aspen Song® Cardinal mix all have hard outer hulls that take large bills to crack. This makes the mix an ideal offering when the birding hotlines come alive with reports of Evening Grosbeaks appearing in the northeast. We can only hope that the current population trend is temporary and this beautiful and exotic bird will once again charm us with their presence on cold wintry days.
Gillihan, Scott W. and Bruce Byers. 2001. Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.