Evening Grosbeaks Are Special Winter Visitors

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Set out a tray feeder filled with sunflower seeds to attract an evening grosbeak. In winter, these yellow grosbeaks wander in flocks.

Evening Grosbeak   Algonquin ParkJim Cumming/Getty Images
A male evening grosbeak has a bold yellow eyebrow

It would be nearly impossible, even for beginner birders, to overlook a flock of evening grosbeaks. These robin-sized beauties—named for the mistaken belief that they appeared more often at dusk—aren’t always easy to find, though. Learn how to identify and attract an evening grosbeak.

Meet the 5 types of grosbeaks backyard birders should know.

What Does an Evening Grosbeak Look Like?

evening grosbeaks on a platform feederCourtesy Nancy Tully
Male and female evening grosbeaks on a tray bird feeder

Few bird species are as stunning as evening grosbeaks. Charlotte Demers, a researcher from the Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, New York, describes them as “big, gorgeous birds.” The yellow, black and white feathers of the males truly stand out, while females are more yellow-gray in color. Males sport an almost comically bold unibrow. All grosbeaks share a common characteristic: a thick, conical bill for cracking tough seeds.

Learn how to identify rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Evening Grosbeak Facts

14 Darrylboleratz Bbfm20Courtesy Darryl Boleratz
An evening grosbeak is recognizable by its big beak, gray and yellow feathers, and black-and-white wing pattern.
  • Scientific Name: Coccothraustes vespertinus
  • Family: Finch
  • Length: 8 inches
  • Wingspan: 13 inches

Check out the updated winter finch forecast for 2022-23.

Nest and Eggs

The female builds a shallow saucer-shaped nest from plant materials and lays two to five blue or turquoise speckled eggs.

What Do Evening Grosbeaks Eat?

evening grosbeaksCourtesy Sally Harris
Attract evening grosbeaks with sunflower seeds.

Throughout the year, grosbeaks’ diets include everything from maple sap to caterpillars. Fruits, seeds and buds are important food sources too. During the winter, their large flocks readily feed on sunflower seeds.

“A few evening grosbeaks (above) arrived in January 2020. Within two weeks, we had a flock of over 100 feeding on sunflower seeds! What a memorable winter,” says Birds & Blooms reader Sally Harris.

Get to know gorgeous blue grosbeaks.

Best Bird Feeder for Evening Grosbeaks

05 Feeder2 Bbdj23Via Merchant
These birds prefer large platform feeders.

“Grosbeaks are too bulky for tubes, but you can get them on tray or platform feeders and hoppers,” Charlotte says. Dozens of evening grosbeaks will dine side by side during these feeding frenzies, while others flutter in from nearby treetops. Keep an eye on your backyard feeding station for this thrilling nature scene.

Attach this side mount tray feeder to your deck, fence or even a tree to welcome evening grosbeak flocks.

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Evening Grosbeak Song and Call

05 Kelleighfarr Bbdj23Courtesy Kelleigh Farr
Evening grosbeaks are “songless songbirds.”

Despite being classified as songbirds, evening grosbeaks don’t really have a song. They use chirping calls but don’t rely on singing to select a mate or defend their territory Listen for a sharp, high and trilling “kleerr” call.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Go west to see black-headed grosbeaks.

Migration

evening grosbeakCourtesy Lynda Yosco
These birds are known for their erratic migration habits.

Evening grosbeaks are irruptive migrators, not following regular annual patterns of movement. Instead, huge numbers of the birds can move to a location but then not be seen again for years. One perk of this wandering lifestyle is usually abundant food resources where they arrive.

Charlotte sometimes finds grosbeak flocks “gritting” alongside roads. This curious behavior is when birds gather sand in their crops, which helps grind down the hard seeds and nuts that they eat.

Head up north to see pine grosbeaks.

Habitat and Range Map

Evening Grosbeak Bird Species

Evening grosbeaks are forest specialists found year-round across Canada and down into the western mountains of the U.S. The species expanded into New England during the early 1900s, perhaps following ornamental plantings of box elder trees. Charlotte says multiple theories explain recent population declines in the East. One idea is that peak grosbeak numbers were artificially high after spruce budworm outbreaks. Another cause could be habitat loss. “They used to be here in winter in huge flocks of 30, 40 or even 50 birds,” Charlotte says, “but in our area they are getting harder to see.”

They are now uncommon in the Northeast and Midwest, unless you get lucky during an irruption year, but still common in Oregon and other parts of the west.

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

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Ken Keffer
Professional naturalist and award-winning environmental educator and author Ken Keffer has penned seven books connecting kids and the outdoors. Ken is currently on the Outdoor Writers Association of America Board of Directors. Ken was born and raised in Wyoming. He's done a little bit of everything, from monitoring small mammals in Grand Teton National Park to researching flying squirrels in southeast Alaska. Ken enjoys birding, floating on lazy rivers, fly fishing, and walking his dog.