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The Evening Grosbeak

By Al Lowe

Most people who feed birds in the winter in this area will be familiar with the Evening Grosbeak. It has a body about the size of a robin, but with a short tail and an enormous beak. The male birds are beautifully marked in yellow, black and white, while the females are more conservatively arrayed in dull brown with a wash of yellow. Both have black and white wings.
The Evening Grosbeak has been steadily extending its breeding range for some years. At one time, it was a native only of western Canada, but now its range extends right through to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Its range is very narrow, though, roughly following the Canada-U.S. border. It also has an odd habit of migrating east-west rather than the normal pattern of north-south.
The birds are very, very fond of sunflower seeds. So, if you want to attract these grosbeaks, sunflowers are your best bet. Keep putting them out on a table, or in a feeder and they will find them. There are almost always grosbeaks around the area in the winter, and they are very quick to spot their favorite dish. As far as natural food is concerned, they particularly like the seeds of the Manitoba Maple. Also acceptable are the seeds of any other maple, the ashes, the berries of the Mountain Ash, the seeds of winter apples, bittersweet, and so on. They also go for spring buds.
One noteworthy thing about their feeding habits is their fondness for some harmful insects - in particular, the spruce budworm. In an area where the budworm is common, these birds literally live on the larvae and pupae of the budworm. They will return to nest in infested areas, and will raise at least two broods a year, if the budworms are very plentiful.
The Evening Grosbeak seems to be almost addicted to salt. If you want to keep them coming back to your yard, keep a supply of coarse salt and sand available to them. They seem to love it.
Nesting for these birds seems to be a very secretive affair. Not too many people have found their nests, even though young birds may be plentiful. Look for one about six or eight feet off the ground, on a flat evergreen branch. It is a good nest-builder, but is certainly no singer. Its repertoire consists of a wide variety of calls, chirps, wheezes and whistles. These birds chirp away all the time as they feed in a flock, probably to reassure everyone that they are still together. Many birds which travel in flocks have this same habit.
The Evening Grosbeak - Hesperiphona vespertina - is a friendly winter visitor. Encourage him, he’s worthy it.