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Pine Grosbeaks May Be A Rare Treat This Winter


Several members of the Finch family of birds periodically fly south of their range into southern Canada and the northern U.S. during the winter in search of food. Pine Siskins, Common and Hoary Redpolls, American Goldfinches, Red and White-winged Crossbills, Purple Finches and both Evening and Pine Grosbeaks participate in these irruptions. Whether or not these species extend their range further south in any given year has much to do with their diet and its abundance or lack thereof on their wintering grounds . According to Ron Pittaway’s 2016-2017Finch Forecast ( ), many of these birds will have a difficult time finding natural food sources this winter in Southern Ontario and the Northeast due to poor cone crops. Some may head north or west, where crops are much better.

Even if there were plenty of cones in the Northeast this year and many Canadian seed-eating finches were headed south of their normal range, we might not see large numbers of Pine Grosbeaks. This is due to the fact that the Pine Grosbeak’s diet is not limited to seeds, but includes buds, insects and fruit. Most of these birds are staying north this winter because of an excellent crop of Mountain-ash berries across the boreal forest. They eat these and other fruits by biting through and discarding the pulp and crushing the seed (which gives them a slightly unkempt look). We will see some — there have been several sightings of mostly small flocks of Pine Grosbeaks in New England in the past few weeks, lingering just long enough to consume what European Mountain-ash berries and crabapples they can find. But those of us who see them are very fortunate this year. (Photo: female Pine Grosbeak eating crabapples.)

Thank you to all of you who so kindly wished me well. I’m sure those wishes are what hav me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed once again!

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14 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    Hope you are feeling all better, Mary! Pine Grosbeaks are another pretty bird! There was a pair of Purple Finches on my feeder a few days ago! Really good fruit & nut seed & cranberries. About 25 m. south of Boston.

    January 9, 2017 at 7:42 am

  2. Ron Dull

    will keep my eye out, glad you are feeling better [😊] Kim


    January 9, 2017 at 8:15 am

  3. Chris

    So glad you are feeling better, Mary!

    January 9, 2017 at 8:41 am

  4. Kate Schubart

    Could you talk about the experience of having a bumper crop of crabapples in the 2014-2015 winter–a flowering crab–and then almost no fruit this year? I did have a cloud of cedar waxwings descend last January and feast on this same tree, but can’t imagine that led to less fruit this year.

    January 9, 2017 at 8:47 am

    • Hi Kate,
      According to what I’ve read, most crabapples exhibit some degree of bienniality in flowering, thus producing a bumper crop of crabapples every other year. You’re right – the waxwings don’t have anything to do with the size of the crop!

      January 9, 2017 at 10:32 am

  5. Randy osga

    Morning Mary,
    I wanted to update you on the Petersham, Mass incident concerning the mt lion attack in the spring of 2016. The DNA results came back positive for mt lion. We are having a 2nd DNA test done by a mutually agreed upon lab between mass wildlife and COV.
    Randy Osga

    January 9, 2017 at 9:12 am

    • Thank you so much, Randy. I really appreciate being kept up to date with mt.lion confirmations in the Northeast, especially near my old stomping grounds. It doesn’t surprise me, but delights me that they have confirmed it. Most likely a male, but I’d love to know for sure what it’s gender was. Thank you again for thinking of me. Mary

      January 9, 2017 at 10:24 am

      • Randy Osga

        The 1st test came back male

        January 9, 2017 at 11:06 am

  6. Cecelia Blair

    Pine Grosbeaks let people come nearer than most birds do, so it is apecial treat to encounter them!

    January 9, 2017 at 10:33 am

  7. Glad to hear ‘you are back in the saddle again,’ Mary!

    January 9, 2017 at 12:24 pm

  8. Annette Goyne

    I was one of the lucky birders tro see 3 Pine Grosbeaks in a crab apple tree on Main St. in Enosburg Falls, VT on Jan. 3. We had just participated in our area Christmas bird count the day before and the group with that street had reported them! The house has two trees out front loaded with crabapples that look similar to the one in your photo. Both the berries and these birds were a feast for the eyes! We also had some Evening Grosbeaks in Montgomery that week-end! Of course we are at the most northern tip of VT, so closest to irruptions. I’ll try to wish some your way, Mary!

    January 9, 2017 at 10:46 pm

  9. Beautiful 😍👌

    March 8, 2017 at 12:57 pm

  10. Debbie

    I live in Northern Canada and have over 20 in my feeders, both Pine and Evening, normally don’t see them all summer, late fall they return, both species were here last week. Nice to have them back for another winter, we go thru 200 lbs is black oil sunflower seeds.

    November 4, 2017 at 9:06 pm

  11. Cathy

    Hi A pair of Pine Grosbeaks at our feeder. What a beautiful sight!! date 2/23/2020

    February 23, 2020 at 10:55 am

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