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Pine Grosbeak

Pinicola enucleator ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

These plump finches dwarf every other finch in the trees and nearly every bird that lands on the feeder. The grayish bodies of Pine Grosbeaks are decked out in pinkish reds on males and yellows on females. They easily crush seeds and nip off tree buds and needles with their thick and stubby bill. They breed in open spruce, fir, and pine forests, but they drop in on feeders in winter, especially in the East when they sometimes irrupt outside of their normal range.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
7.9–9.8 in
20–25 cm
Wingspan
13 in
33 cm
Relative Size
Larger than a Cassin's Finch, smaller than a Steller's Jay.
Other Names
  • Durbec des sapins (French)
  • Camachuelo picogrueso (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Pine Grosbeaks eat a lot of plants, but it can be tough for their nestlings to eat and digest all that vegetation. Instead of feeding plants directly to their nestlings, they regurgitate a paste of insects and vegetable matter that they store in pouches at the lower part of their jaw on either side of their tongues.
  • Not all Pine Grosbeaks are the same. Not only do they differ in the amount and intensity of red across their range, they are also different sizes. Body size and wing and tail length generally increase from Newfoundland westward to the Yukon Territory. But birds on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Island) in British Columbia, Canada, and in California are among the smallest of all Pine Grosbeaks. Wings and tails of birds on Haida Gwaii are around a half inch smaller than birds in Alaska.
  • Pine Grosbeaks aren't just in North America. They also breed in subalpine evergreen forests from eastern Asia to Scandinavia.
  • The tameness and slow-moving behavior of the Pine Grosbeak prompted locals in Newfoundland to affectionately call it a "mope."
  • Winter flocks may stay near a tree with abundant fruit until all of it is consumed.
  • The oldest recorded Pine Grosbeak was a male, and at least 9 years, 9 months old when he was found in Quebec in 1970. He was first captured and banded in Connecticut in 1961.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Pine Grosbeaks live in open evergreen forests with spruce, pine, or fir across Canada, in mountainous regions in the West, and in subalpine forests in Eurasia. In the Sierra Nevada in California they occur in open red fir and lodgepole pine forests usually higher than 6,000 feet. In the Rocky Mountains they are most common in valleys near timberline (above 9,000 feet). In the winter they either stay in similar habitat, move to lower elevations, or to areas with abundant mountain ash, maple, and ash fruits and seeds.

Food


Seeds

Nearly 100% of their diet is made up of buds, seeds, and fruits from spruce, pine, juniper, birch, mountain ash, maple, box elder, crabapple, blackberry, ragweed, and burdock. They forage on the ground or in trees, grabbing seeds and fruits or nipping fresh buds and needles from the tips of branches. Though they are primarily vegetarian they catch insects and spiders in the summer. These protein-rich items are often fed to their growing young along with mixed plant foods. In the winter they also eat grit and salt along roadsides. They frequently visit feeders with black oil sunflower seeds or suet. Grosbeaks drink water or eat snow daily.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–4 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
1–1 in
2.5–2.6 cm
Egg Width
0.7–0.7 in
1.7–1.8 cm
Incubation Period
13–14 days
Nestling Period
13–20 days
Egg Description
Pale blue with darker dots and markings.
Condition at Hatching
Naked with a few downy feathers on the head and back.
Nest Description

The female builds a loose foundation of evergreen twigs into which she weaves roots and smaller twigs. She then builds the inner cup of the nest with rootlets, twigs, and grass. She lines it with lichen, evergreen needles, soft grasses, and feathers. The nest is around 6–9 inches across and 3–4 inches deep on the outside with an inner cup around 2.5–3 inches across.

Nest Placement

Tree

Pine Grosbeaks nest in evergreen trees often near the trunk where the nest is well concealed by dense vegetation. They tend to nest between six and 16 feet above the ground.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

In trees Pine Grosbeaks sluggishly hop between braches nipping off the new growth of trees or snatching seeds and fruits. They also hop or walk along the ground when they are searching for fallen seeds or fruits. When boreal tree species produce larger seed crops Pine Grosbeaks often raise more young and are more likely to survive the winter. But when those trees fail to produce seed crops the next season, the now larger population of grosbeaks wanders or irrupts outside of the normal breeding range to find food. During these irruptions they often turn up at bird feeders farther south than normal. In the winter, they forage in groups from 5–15 individuals. In areas where different call types exist, individuals with the same song type stick together; they do not forage with other groups with different flight calls. During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairs. Males sing from treetops to defend their breeding territory. Mated pairs have identical flight calls, which may indicate that they form strong bonds with each other.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Pine Grosbeaks are fairly uncommon in the United States as they only breed in small pockets of forest in western mountains and they are easy to overlook. Much of their far-northern breeding range lies outside of the area covered by the North American Breeding Bird Survey, making it hard to estimate population trends precisely. Nevertheless, North American Breeding Bird Survey data suggest that populations of Pine Grosbeaks declined by 2.4% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 70%. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 8.9 million with 18% spending some part of the year in the United States and 34% in Canada. Pine Grosbeak is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, and rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Research modeling the projected impacts of climate change on birds in the Sierra Nevada suggests that Pine Grosbeaks are vulnerable to climate change at least in California.

Credits

Range Map Help

Pine Grosbeak Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident. Year-round resident with some seasonal movement to lower elevations or irruptions outside of the breeding range.

Backyard Tips

Pine Grosbeaks frequently visit feeders especially in the northern states during the winter. Because of their size a large tube feeder, platform feeder, or large hopper is best. Fill one of these feeders with black oil sunflower seeds or hulled sunflower seeds. Learn more at Project FeederWatch.

Find This Bird

There are two ways to find Pine Grosbeaks: look for them on their breeding grounds in the West or in Canada; or wait for them to come to sunflower seed feeders in winter in the northern states. During summer, look in open spruce and pine forests and listen for their rich, warbling singing from treetops from mid-May through early August. Their size and sluggish behavior make finding one in a tree easier than finding nearly any other finch. In winter, they frequent bird feeders, but you may also be able to find a group of grosbeaks eating grit along roadsides near open evergreen forests.

Get Involved

Join Project FeederWatch and tell us how many Pine Grosbeaks you see at your feeder. Learn more and help contribute to valuable information to science at Project FeederWatch.

Count the number of Pine Grosbeaks in your yard during the Great Backyard Bird Count and help us learn more about the distribution and abundance of birds. Find out more and sign up at Great Backyard Bird Count.

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