Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeak

Jim Rosso photos

Just the other day I saw the first Evening Grosbeak to visit a feeder at my house on Vashon. The grosbeak name comes from their very thick but short bill. They have big, dark heads with bright white and black wings. Male's backs and fronts appear a bright, golden yellow while the females show gray-green.

Evening Grosbeaks possess the same tendency to wander as many other species also in the finch family. One year the birds may be numerous and widespread and the next only one or two might be seen or heard. Large numbers seem to be linked to insect infestations of trees, especially spruce budworm outbreaks. At other times the birds feed extensively on the seeds and fruits of native and domesticated trees and shrubs such as Pacific Madrone, conifer and Big Leaf Maple seeds. They readily come to bird feeders, preferring black oil sunflower seeds. At times a large flock may take over a bird feeder.

Spring and fall migration periods in May and September seem to be the best times of year to be on watch for Evening Grosbeaks. They do show up at other times of the year and could very well breed on the island from time to time. If you have ever seen them nesting or feeding young, please let me know for Vashon Audubon chapter database of breeding bird records. Listening for the piercing "peaer" call note as they fly overhead makes the likeliest way to actually spot them.

Everyone with a sunflower seed feeder on the island likely has also seen the related and brightly colored Black-headed Grosbeak. The males have black heads (what a surprise) and bright orange bodies with black and white wings. Females have brown and white striped heads and wings and yellow-tan bodies. Their song sounds much like a robin and mornings lately have assumed an avian version of the battle of the bands between the grosbeaks and the robins. These grosbeaks have probably gone from non-existent a hundred or so years ago before the clearing of coniferous forests to quite common each spring and summer now that much of the island consists of mixed deciduous and coniferous forest.