Carol Hardenburg reported hosting evening grosbeaks on her property in Brocton on Nov. 19. The rare evening grosbeaks (8 inches) are back - but just briefly. They are the biggest finches that will visit us. At my feeders are the purple finches (6 inches), house finches (6 inches), and American goldfinches (4.5 inches). Then, in the wild, depending on the time of year, the white-winged crossbills (6.5 inches) make a rare appearance. Pine siskins (5 inches), and common redpolls (5 inches) are much more abundant in the warmer seasons.
The evening grosbeaks prefer cold weather. In the winter, their range is from the Canadian tundra down to Maine, the New York Adirondacks and northern edges of Midwestern states. We are not in the picture. That's why it's a big deal when some years they show up down here in Western New York.
These members of the finch family might be confused with American goldfinches. They both have yellow on their backs and breasts, black tails, and white on the wings. The difference is that the evening grosbeaks aren't as bright yellow as the goldfinches, and they are about 8 inches long compared to the 5 inches of the goldfinches.
Evening grosbeaks eat much snow after a meal of seeds.
Let's talk about the grosbeaks' behavior. That's my favorite study.
First, reproduction. When courting, the male will get the female's attention by lowering his body, puffing out his feathers and quivering his wings. Sometimes the male and female bow to each other. Although the male doesn't sing during this process, the female does. Finally, the male may feed the female. Isn't that like a human being treating his or her partner to dinner?
The nests, composed of twigs, sticks, roots and fine materials in the lining are not very sturdy. Look for them way out on a horizontal limb. The nestlings are fed well-chewed insect larvae and crushed seeds of fruit.
Only during breeding do the adults eat insects, and then, the insects compose only 20 percent of their diets. Mostly, they feed on seeds from trees and shrubs, juniper berries and pinion nuts out west. Humans are not the only ones who relish maple sap. So do evening grosbeaks. They also like deciduous trees and shrub buds. All this is often washed down with dirt and gravel that provide minerals and salts. There are lots of birds who feed on dirt and gravel, because they don't have teeth. (Once I saw a bald eagle feeding by the side of the road with turkey vultures.) Especially in winter, car drivers need to be aware of those birds.
Arthur Cleveland Bent was an outstanding ornithologist who was active in the early 1900s. His 21-volume work, "Life Histories of North American Birds," was published from 1919-1968. These books, written in response to a request by the Smithsonian Institution, include contributions of hundreds of birders.
It's from this source that I learned some history of the sightings of this bird and its behavior. The evening grosbeak was seen in 1823 by Major Delafield, who was an agent of United States boundaries. He spotted several of the birds while setting up camp one evening. Thus, he gave it the name, "evening grosbeak." We now know that this species is more active in the morning, so it should be called the "morning grosbeak."
If any of you see evening grosbeaks, please tell them that I would love to see them in my yard, too.