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Evening Grosbeak

Coccothraustes vespertinus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A heavyset finch of northern coniferous forests, the Evening Grosbeak adds a splash of color to winter bird feeders every few years, when large flocks depart their northern breeding grounds en masse to seek food to the south. The yellow-bodied, dusky-headed male has an imposing air thanks to his massive bill and fierce eyebrow stripe. The female is more subtly marked, with golden highlights on her soft gray plumage. This declining species is becoming uncommon, particularly in the eastern United States.

Birds of North America Online
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Keys to identification Help

Finches
Finches
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Evening Grosbeaks are large, heavyset finches with very thick, powerful, conical bills. They have a thick neck, full chest, and relatively short tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult male Evening Grosbeaks are yellow and black birds with a prominent white patch in the wings. They have dark heads with a bright-yellow stripe over the eye. Females and immatures are mostly gray, with white-and-black wings and a greenish-yellow tinge to the neck and flanks. The bill is pale ivory on adult males and greenish-yellow on females.

  • Behavior

    These are social birds that are often found in flocks, particularly in winter. They forage in treetops for insect larvae during the summer; in winter they eat seeds, buds, berries, and small fruits.

  • Habitat

    They make very erratic movements south into the continental United States in some winters, when they can become common at backyard feeders. Away from backyards, they winter in forests and feed in both deciduous and coniferous trees, often at higher elevations. They breed in spruce-fir, pine-oak, pinyon-juniper, and aspen forests of northern North America and the mountains of the West.

Range Map Help

Evening Grosbeak Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • In most of U.S., most frequently seen in winter
    • Large, stocky finch with massive bill
    • Males mostly yellow with brown face and yellow eyebrow
    • Males have black wings with large white patch
    • © Vicki Blitz, Washington, May 2009
  • Adult female

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult female
    • Large, chunky-bodied finch
    • Massive, conical, pale bill
    • Gray-brown overall, with yellow collar
    • Black wings and tail patched with white
    • © Mary Fran, March 2009
  • Males (left), female (right)

    Evening Grosbeak

    Males (left), female (right)
    • Often seen in large flocks at feeders
    • Large, stocky finch with massive, pale yellow bill
    • Males show striking black and white patches in wing
    • Females mostly gray with faint yellow collar
    • © M.L. Milne/PFW, January 2004
  • Adult female

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult female
    • Large, heavy-billed finch
    • Females mostly pale gray/tan with yellow collar
    • Black and white patches on wings and tail
    • © Bill Wynneck, February 2011
  • Adult male

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Large, heavy-bodied finch
    • Massive, pale yellow bill
    • Western males more brown/dark olive overall
    • Bright yellow eyebrow
    • © Mike Wisnicki, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, March 2010
  • Adult male

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Large, stocky finch with heavy, conical bill
    • Eastern males mostly golden overall with darker brown head
    • Yellow eyebrow
    • Black wings with bold white patch
    • © Mike Wisnicki, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, March 2009
  • Adult female

    Evening Grosbeak

    Adult female
    • Large, chunky finch
    • Heavy, pale yellow bill
    • Females mostly pale gray/tan
    • Golden yellow patch on nape
    • © Raymond Lee, Tomahawk County, Alberta, Canada, February 2010

Similar Species

  • Breeding adult male

    American Goldfinch

    Breeding adult male
    • Much smaller and daintier than Evening Grosbeak
    • Small bill
    • Thin white wing-bars with no large patches
    • © Robin Arnold, Ohio, April 2008
  • Female/immature male

    Pine Grosbeak

    Female/immature male
    • Similar in size/shape to Evening Grosbeak, but plainer overall
    • Pot-bellied, with stubbier, darker bill
    • Lacks boldly-patterned wings
    • © Laura Erickson, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota, January 2011
  • Nonbreeding male

    American Goldfinch

    Nonbreeding male
    • Much smaller and daintier than Evening Grosbeak
    • Thinner, smaller, all-dark bill
    • Lacks bold patterning on head, mostly dull olive/yellow
    • © Carole Hickey, Pennsylvania, December 2010

Similar Species

  • American Goldfinches are much smaller than Evening Grosbeaks and they have much smaller bills. In breeding plumage, adult males show much more yellow, including a yellow back and head with a neat black forehead. Females and nonbreeding goldfinches have brown bodies with contrasting black wings, unlike the grayish bodies of female Evening Grosbeaks. Female and immature Pine Grosbeaks have dark bills that are much less massive than Evening Grosbeaks. They are greenish-yellow on the head, unlike the female Evening Grosbeak’s yellowish nape. Pine Grosbeaks have gray wings with white wingbars, whereas Evening Grosbeaks show black wings with a large white flash.

Regional Differences

There is little geographic variation in plumage, but Evening Grosbeaks do consist of at least three distinct populations, each with distinct call notes.

Backyard Tips

Although they may not visit your backyard every year, Evening Grosbeaks show up irregularly at feeders during the winter. They eat sunflower seeds and are also attracted to the seeds, berries, and buds of trees and shrubs—especially maples. They are fairly large birds and they often travel in sizeable flocks, so they often use platform feeders as opposed to tube feeders.

Find This Bird

It’s hard to predict where in the western and northeastern U.S. Evening Grosbeaks will show up in any given winter. When they move into an area, they’re very likely to show up at platform feeders offering sunflower seeds, particularly near forested areas at higher elevations. Out in the woods, you’ll have better luck finding a flock if you listen for their running patter of call notes, which can be sweet, burry, or sharp. In summer you’ll need to be in northern North America or in the mountains of the West, where Evening Grosbeaks breed in coniferous forests. At this time they are harder to find as they forage and nest high in trees, travel in smaller groups, and make less noise.

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