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Pine Grosbeak

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Pine Grosbeak - Male

Pine Grosbeak - Male

Sharon Mollerus

One of the largest grosbeaks, the pine grosbeak is a relatively tame bird with a calm temperament. Because much of its range is extremely northern, southward winter irruptions of pine grosbeaks are highly anticipated by many birders.

Common Name:

Pine Grosbeak, Silly Fool, Mope

Scientific Name:

Pinicola enucleator

Scientific Family:

Fringillidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Black, stubby, curved upper mandible
  • Size: 9.5 inches long with 14-15-inch wingspan, stout body, long tail, deep chest
  • Colors: Gray, black, white, yellow, reddish-pink, pink, orange, rufous
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a rosy red or pink head, back, rump, uppertail coverts, throat and breast, but are generally plain gray elsewhere. A blurry dark patch around the eyes can make the eyes seem larger, and a white blurry arc below the eye is occasionally visible. The wings are black with two blurry wing bars that may show a pink wash. The tail is black and slightly notched. Females have similar markings but are a yellow or yellow-orange color where males are red or pink, and females generally have less total color, including less white on the wings. For both genders, legs and feet are black.

    Juveniles are similar to adult females but the color is duller and less extensive.

    A rare russet morph of the pine grosbeak is occasionally recorded. In this coloration, the bird is washed with rufous rather than red or yellow.

Foods:

Seeds, fruit, insects, berries, tree buds (See: Granivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

These hardy finches are at home in coniferous forests, particularly with spruce, fir or lodgepole pine trees as the dominant vegetation. They will move to mixed coniferous and deciduous forests in the winter to find more abundant food sources. They will also visit suburban areas with mature trees, particularly if fruit trees are available.

Pine grosbeaks are found year-round from southern Alaska through northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, central Manitoba and southern Ontario and Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the west their range covers British Columbia and into western Montana and eastern Idaho. Isolated year-round populations can be found in appropriate habitat in the Rocky Mountains, including in Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. In summer, these finches expand their summer range much further north, but otherwise do not typically migrate south, though irregular irruptions are recorded in years when food supplies are scarce in the birds' more common range.

Pine grosbeaks are also found in Europe and Asia, and occupy similar habitats and ranges in northern Scandinavia and Russia.

Vocalizations:

These finches have a rapid, clear warbling song with sharp notes. The song lasts 1-3 seconds, while the typical call is three quick "chirp" notes.

Behavior:

These are tame birds that are easily approached, and in the backyard they may learn to feed from hands. Their movements are slow compared to other finches, and they often forage on the ground as well as in trees. During the breeding season they are solitary or found in pairs, but in winter they can form medium or large flocks. Their undulating flight pattern is common for many finch species.

Reproduction:

Pine grosbeaks cement their monogamous pair bonds with courtship displays that include tender feedings between mates. After mating, the female will build a cup-shaped nest constructed of twigs and weeds lined with finer, softer material including moss, lichens and grasses. The nest is located on a branch 2-25 feet above the ground. The eggs, when laid, are oval-shaped and a pale blue or blue-green color with darker brown or purplish spotting. Only one brood is laid per year, and 2-5 eggs in that brood is typical.

The female parent incubates the eggs for 13-15 days, and after hatching the altricial young are fed by both parents for an additional 15-20 days.

Occasional hybridization between pine grosbeaks and purple finches has been reported.

Attracting Pine Grosbeaks:

These finches will readily visit bird-friendly backyards that offer coniferous trees for birds as well as suitable fruit trees and berry shrubs. They will also visit bird feeders where sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed is available, particularly if the feeders are open or a ground-feeding area exists. Providing a heated bird bath for liquid water in the winter can also attract pine grosbeaks.

Conservation:

These birds are not considered threatened, but they are susceptible to habitat loss from logging operations that destroy their preferred coniferous forests. Especially severe winters can also reduce the pine grosbeak population but are not an overall threat to the species, which is well adapted for its northern range and is quite capable of keeping warm in winter and finding good food sources.

Similar Birds:

  • White-Winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera)
  • Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
  • Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus)
  • Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus)

Photo – Pine Grosbeak – Male © Sharon Mollerus
Photo – Pine Grosbeak – Female © Jyrki Salmi

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