Many of the walkways at Oregon State University are lined with elms. Each fall, when I was at OSU, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the evening grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus). For a day or two thousands (or so it seemed) of these large finches would descend upon the elms, strip the elms of all their seeds and then disappear again. I would sit on a bench and listen to their loud calls and chatter. The noise of all the birds was almost overwhelming at times.
Although evening grosbeaks are considered abundant and widespread, wintering or residing year-long in most of the contiguous states, I rarely see them. In our yard (Lookout CA) they only appear briefly in the springtime, crowding onto the box elders (a type of maple) and stripping off all of the dried seeds from the previous fall within hours. Blink and we miss their yearly appearance.
Yesterday morning just as the sun came up, Leonard called that the evening grosbeaks were here. I ran out and quickly took some pictures, thinking that I could take more photos after breakfast. Not to be! There were very few box elder seeds this year and the grosbeaks ate them all within a very short period of time and disappeared.
This very colorful bird has a yellow to yellow-brown back, rump and underparts. The wings are black with large white patches. The head is brownish black with a black crown and yellow forehead and supercillium (eye stripe). The tail is short. The evening grosbeak’s heavy, conical yellow-green beak is distinctive. This powerful bill is able to crack heavy seeds such as cherry pits and pinyon nuts.
The evening grosbeak eats seeds, particularly maple seeds, buds, berries, sap and small fruits. Particularly during the breeding season insects are added to the diet. Although evening grosbeaks form large, gregarious flocks in the winter they are more secretive in the breeding season. Nests are usually built in coniferous forests or mixed woodlands in the mountain West.
I am so glad that Leonard spotted the evening grosbeaks, since their visit was particularly brief this year.