Living Bird Magazine
Evening GrosbeakCoccothraustes vespertinus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Fringillidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Picogrueso Norteño (Spanish)
- Gros-bec errant (French)
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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- The Evening Grosbeak is a songbird without a song—that is, it does not seem to use any complex sounds to attract a mate or defend its territory. It does have a small repertoire of simple calls, including sweet, piercing notes and burry chirps.
- With their enormous bills, Evening Grosbeaks can crush seeds that are too large for Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins to open. These smaller birds often seek out the grosbeaks and glean the food scraps they leave behind.
- Though they’re ferocious seed-crackers in the wintertime, in summer Evening Grosbeaks eat insects such as spruce budworm, a serious forest pest. The grosbeaks are so adept at finding these tiny caterpillars that the birds often provide a first warning that a budworm outbreak has begun.
- In the mid-1800s, Evening Grosbeaks were uncommon to rare east of the Rockies, but then they began moving eastward with each winter migration, reaching Rhode Island in the winter of 1910–1911. By the 1920s they were considered a regular winter visitor in New England. This eastward expansion may be related to the growing number of ornamental box elders, which provide a steady food supply for the grosbeaks.
- Evening Grosbeaks are irregular (or “irruptive”) winter migrants. Some years these spectacular finches show up at feeders far south of their normal winter range—providing a treat for backyard bird watchers. By joining Project FeederWatch you can keep track of visits by these and other winter birds—and the data you record will help scientists keep track of bird populations.
- The oldest recorded Evening Grosbeak was a male, and at least 16 years, 3 months old when he was found in New Brunswick in 1974. He had been banded in Connecticut in 1959.