Dean reported at our coffee group that he had seen a pine grosbeak last week. This bird is rather rare in our area, but I had seen a flock of three of them on the shoulder of a county road on the same day. Generally the pine grosbeak spends its winters a bit farther north.
The grosbeaks belong to the same bird family as the finches. There are more than 400 species in this family. They are found on every continent except for Australia. The name "grosbeak" comes from the bird's short, heavy, conical bill, which seems ideally suited to cracking seeds. Seeds are this bird's main food, but they also feed on insects. Grosbeaks are about the same size as robins, and their finch-type bill makes them easy to identify.
All of the grosbeaks are similar in size and shape, but the color of their plumage varies greatly from one species to another. Five species are found in our state, but only three are common here. The black-headed grosbeak is found in the Rocky Mountains and farther west. The blue grosbeak is a beautiful bright blue color, and is normally found only in the southern part of the U.S. The three species found in our part of the north country are pine grosbeak, rose-breasted grosbeak and evening grosbeak.
The pine grosbeak is sometimes called the Canadian grosbeak. Most of its plumage is a rosy red color similar to that of the purple finch. The pine grosbeak is much larger than the finch, and has black wing bars. It breeds mostly in Canada and comes south into New England in winter.
Our warmer-than-normal weather probably brought them into our area this year. Pine grosbeaks are birds of the conifer forest, seeming particularly attracted to pine or spruce. This bird feeds on tree buds and on the seeds of box elder and maples. It also eats juniper berries and mountain ash berries. These colorful birds seldom come in to our sunflower seed feeder, but will sometimes perch on trees around our yard.
Rose breasted grosbeaks are like summer birds. They do not nest here in the north country, but migrate to Mexico and south in the winter. The plumage colors are black and white, with a bright red bib. The red color makes them easy to identify. Most of them nest in Canada. Every summer we see the rose breasted several times, which makes me think that they have a nest nearby.
The song of the male birds is described as a loud, sweet warble, something like the song of a robin. The bird is popular with some truck farmers because it will eat large numbers of potato bugs. It is sometimes called the potato bug bird. Unfortunately, it also likes to eat peas.
The evening grosbeak is the species most often seen in our area. It is a handsome black and yellow bird that usually comes in flocks. My wife calls them The Yellow Raiders because of their eating manners. They seem to be very fond of sunflower seeds, and will keep eating until the feeder is empty. They breed mainly in Canada, but migrate south to Kansas and Iowa in winter. Our bird book calls them "fearless."
The grosbeaks add color and variety to our north country landscape.
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