SPECIES SPOTLIGHT: EVENING GROSBEAK
One of the most colorful denizens of the north woods, Evening Grosbeaks are on many a birder’s target lists when visiting northern locations, and they’re a favorite of the locals. I’ve made two trips up to Sax Zim Bog, and they were high on my list for each trip!
While it can be observed in many northern locations regularly during the winter, every 2-3 years the Evening Grosbeak leaves their normal breeding areas and venture further south in search of more plentiful food. This bird is a favorite at bird feeder locations, which is where I have viewed and photographed them. Outside of breeding season, these birds often travel in sizable flocks, and seem to almost have a “hive mind” while feeding. It’s fascinating to watch. Like some other birds, once one makes the decision to take wing, the rest faithfully follow.
Another interesting tidbit about this beautiful bird is that it is a songbird without a song. Evening Grosbeaks do have simple calls that they use, however, none of these calls are complex or used for attracting a mate or defending territory during breeding season.
They also have a great relationship with last week’s spotlight bird, the Common Redpoll! Evening Grosbeaks have a very large bill, which is incredibly adept at cracking large seeds. When you find them at bird feeder locations, they’re often accompanied by the Common Redpoll, who likes to clean up after the Grosbeaks by eating the bits of seed left over from their meals of seeds that are too large for the Redpoll’s to crack open themselves.
While experiencing declining numbers, the Evening Grosbeak is quite adept at moving into new areas. In the mid 1800’s they were difficult to find east of the Rocky Mountains. They started moving towards the east with each migration. By 1910, they arrived in Rhode Island, and a decade later, were regular winter visitors in New England.
If you have your heart set on finding one of these amazing birds, take note that their numbers vary from year to year, and they usually show up with high numbers in different areas as well. They live in mature and second-growth coniferous forests of the northeast United States and Canada, as well as the upper ranges of western U.S. Mountains and down into Mexico. That being said, there are still places that they can usually be found year in and year out. Check ebird and birding reports from northern areas, or better yet, keep your eyes open for next year’s Big Year Trip to see owls in northern Minnesota on www.wildside.com, where you can not only see some amazing owls, but a range of amazing birds in beautiful boreal scenery!
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