Finches of the forest

It was a treat to find two birds we never see in the Twin Cities at the feeders in Sax-Zim bog last weekend.  Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Grosbeaks are the largest members of the finch family, and like other finches, the male is brightly colored and the female is somewhat drab in comparison.

Male (left) and female Evening Grosbeak

Male (left) and female Evening Grosbeak

Male (top) and female Pine Grosbeak

Male (top) and female Pine Grosbeak

Both species use their large, crushing bills to harvest seeds out of reach of the smaller finches in the winter, but the summer diets of both are quite varied.

Male (top) and female Pine Grosbeak

Now that’s a big beak!

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeaks consume a lot of seeds in the winter, but they are largely insectivorous in the summer, especially when feeding chicks.  They are a major predator of the spruce budworm pest.  They are usually found in spruce-pine forests in southern Canada and the mountains of the western U.S. year-round.

Pine Grosbeak male

Pine Grosbeaks prefer a diet of fruit with their seeds and might feast on crabapples in a residential yard, as well as the sunflower seeds at the feeder.  They breed in the northern-most coniferous forests of Canada, feeding their chicks a mash of insect and vegetation.

The two species are not closely related, and the Pine Grosbeak is actually a circumpolar species, found in pine forests from Scandinavia to Eastern Asia, with its closest relatives being the European Bullfinches.  In North America, both species respond to winter food shortages with irruptive behavior that might involve flying miles south of their breeding territories.  Northern Minnesota is on the southern border of their winter range, so we felt lucky to see them.

9 thoughts on “Finches of the forest

  1. Thank you for posting pictures & comments on the Finches. We often walk in Descanso Gardens & often go to the bird observation deck there where I learned it was a pair of yellow Western Tanigers that flew into our yard one day. Lots of birds come to our yard. I especially enjoyed watching the humming bird that checked each blossom of a fushia plant hanging by my kitchen window each morning last year. Sorry that we lost the fushia, the adder of roses geranium that hangs there now is pretty but no humming bird visits.

  2. There is a native finch here that actually looks like those in the first picture, but are probably smaller. They swarm the ornamental sunflowers with the smaller seeds. They were really nice outside, but when I cut a few of their sunflowers and brought them into the dining room, a BIG herd of finches came in to party. What a mess! I should write about it someday. It was actually funnier than it was nasty.

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