Evening GrosbeakCoccothraustes vespertinus

adult male, Eastern
Garth McElroy/VIREO
adult female, Eastern
Brian Henry/VIREO
adult male, Western
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female, Western
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Family

Description

This chunky, big-billed finch wanders widely in winter, descending on bird feeders in colorful, noisy flocks, to thrill feeder-watchers and to consume prodigious amounts of sunflower seeds. Originally a western bird, almost unknown east of the Great Lakes before the 1890s, it now breeds commonly east to New England and the Maritime Provinces. Its eastward spread may have been helped by both the planting of box elders (a favorite food tree) across northern prairies, and the abundance of bird feeders in the Northeast.

Habitat

Conifer forests; in winter, box elders and other maples, also fruiting shrubs. Breeds in coniferous and mixed forests; often associated with spruce and fir in northern forest, with pines in western mountains. In migration and winter, may be equally common in deciduous groves in woodlands and semi-open country.

Feeding Diet

Mostly seeds, some berries and insects. Seeds make up majority of diet, especially seeds of box elder, ash, maple, locust, and other trees. Also feeds on buds of deciduous trees, berries, small fruits, weed seeds. Will feed on oozing maple sap. Eats some insects in summer. At bird feeders, very fond of sunflower seeds. Will eat fine gravel for minerals and salts. Huge bill allows it to crack large seeds with ease.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in trees and shrubs, sometimes on ground. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.

Nesting

In courtship, male "dances" with head and tail raised, wings drooped and vibrating, as he swivels back and forth. Male frequently feeds female. In another courtship display, both members of a pair may bow alternately. Nest: Usual site is on horizontal branch (often well out from trunk) or in vertical fork of tree. Height varies, usually 20-60' above ground, can be 10-100' up. Nest (built by female) is a rather loosely made cup of twigs, lined with fine grass, moss, rootlets, pine needles. Eggs: 3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale blue to blue-green, blotched with brown, gray, purple. Incubation is by female only, about 11-14 days. Male may feed female during incubation. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.

Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale blue to blue-green, blotched with brown, gray, purple. Incubation is by female only, about 11-14 days. Male may feed female during incubation. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.

Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.

Conservation

Extended its breeding range eastward during the late 19th century and early 20th century. In recent decades, eastern population has declined again, but reasons are poorly understood.

Range

Winter range in East very irregular, large numbers moving far south in some winters, little apparent movement in others. Such invasions have become smaller and less frequent in recent years. In the West, occasionally invades lowlands from nesting areas in mountains.

Listen

calls of individual
flock calls #2
flock calls #1
calls of individual

Similar Species

adult male

Lesser Goldfinch

Very common in parts of the West, this tiny finch is easy to overlook until one learns its chiming and twittering callnotes. Small flocks of Lesser Goldfinches are often found feeding in weedy fields or in streamside trees. Two color patterns occur in the United States, and males in some areas may be either green-backed or black-backed. The complicated song of the male usually includes short imitations of the voices of other birds.

adult male, breeding

American Goldfinch

A typical summer sight is a male American Goldfinch flying over a meadow, flashing golden in the sun, calling perchickory as it bounds up and down in flight. In winter, when males and females alike are colored in subtler brown, flocks of goldfinches congregate in weedy fields and at feeders, making musical and plaintive calls. In most regions this is a late nester, beginning to nest in mid-summer, perhaps to assure a peak supply of late-summer seeds for feeding its young.

Vireo

iPad Promo