EVENING GROSBEAK – (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
One might think that the Evening grosbeak should be part of the grosbeak and cardinal family, like the Rose-breasted grosbeak, however it is not – it is a member of the finch family, like the Pine grosbeak.
This bird is easily attracted to bird feeders offering sunflower seeds (the large ones). Males chase each other and females to ‘own’ the feeder to themselves, only to allow a house sparrow creeping from behind. It is also interesting to watch how adept and quick the bird is at cracking the seed envelopes.
This bird is called ‘evening’ grosbeak due to the mistaken belief by Rocky Mountains area settlers in the early 1800s that it was coming from out of the woods in late afternoon. This belief also gave the bird its Latin name adjective, ‘vespertinus’. The French name, ‘Gros-bec errant’ (‘errant’ means ‘wandering’), is related to the bird’s unpredictable movements over the seasons and years. And as for the Latin name itself, ‘coccothraustes’, it comes from ancient Greek and means breaking a seed or kernel.
The evening grosbeak has a massive conical bill and is approximately 20 cm (8 in.) long. The adult male has a bright yellow bar above the bill, and its body is also yellow. The head and neck are dark brown, the wings black and white, and the tail is black. Females are grey with black and white wings. The bill is creamish and the legs and feet are pink.
The evening grosbeak’s breeding range now covers most of southern Canada and the western USA. This bird extended its breeding range from out west perhaps due to the planting of box elders in cities across those two countries. The evening grosbeak has a preference for the spruce budworm, a coniferous forest pest. It is therefore vulnerable to pesticide spraying, and its numbers have declined sharply, but a definitive link is not established yet, as another factor might be the conifer forests commercial harvesting.
Although the evening grosbeak is known to breed on PEI, its presence is not regular, rather rare or occasional. In the winter there can be ‘irruptive’ flocks observed, depending on food availability. Aside from seeds provided by humans, one of its favorite foods in the winter is the seed of the box elder (acer neundo).
Back when I was living in Laval, we used to feed those birds, even attracting them on the window sill (see below). Great attraction for our children – and the cat (but we never let her out)!