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Elusive evening grosbeaks popping up in Santa Fe

October 30, 2018 GMT

Evening grosbeaks are stunning, stocky birds and you’ll know it if you see one in your backyard. They aren’t loyal backyard visitors though.

Evening grosbeaks are an irregular (or irruptive) species, so they don’t follow predictable migratory patterns. We are in their year-round range, but we can’t count on their consistent presence.

They float around looking for available food, so when they make an appearance in your backyard, watch carefully because they might move on the next day. We see them less often in the summer because they eat far more insects during nesting season, switching to more seed come fall and winter.

We also see more evening grosbeaks in colder months because they travel in flocks, so are more noticeable.

Evening grosbeaks eat insects, berries, nuts, buds and they love sunflower seeds at backyard bird feeders. You’ll also commonly see them eating at seed and nut cylinders. They sometimes feed on road gravel for minerals, salt and grit to grind the seeds they eat.

They are one of the few birds capable of crushing wild cherry pits with their bill. The massive bill of the evening grosbeak is one sure-fire way of identification. Both male and female have the same large, thick bill which is ivory to light green in color.

Like many birds, the male is overall brighter in color. Male evening grosbeaks have a yellow body, black head with yellow eyebrow, black wings and tail with white wing patches. The female is pale grayish-brown with black and white wings and tail. You can often see their distinctive white wing patches flashing in flight as they cruise into or out of your backyard.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology tells us that “evening grosbeaks are numerous and widespread, but populations dropped steeply between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey — particularly in the East where numbers declined by 97 percent during that time. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 4.1 million, with 71 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 57 percent in Canada, and 5 percent in Mexico.

Evening grosbeak rates a 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is on the 2016 state of North America’s birds watch list, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats.”

Cornell lists climate change, logging, disease and aerial spraying, (which reduces the number of forest insects that evening grosbeaks eat), as some of the causes of their decline.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World.