The Evening Grosbeak is a robin-sized finch, notable for its bold colours and large bill. The male has a black head with a thick yellow streak across his face. The body is golden-yellow, and wings are black with white patches. The female is a more subtle yellow with black and white streaked wings. Their thick bill is very powerful and can easily crush cherry pits.
During outbreaks, more than 80% of their diet consists of Spruce Budworm pupae and larvae. Spruce Budworm will harm trees by eating buds and leaves, so Evening Grosbeaks are an important predator. They also feed on other insects like caterpillars and aphids. Outbreaks of Spruce Budworm in Ontario are related to summer and winter minimum temperatures, which are being affected by climate change. The outbreaks are also related to the forest composition, especially the presence of Balsam Fir and White Spruce. Between outbreaks, Evening Grosbeaks rely on seeds and berry pits from shrubs and trees. In the winter, they are attracted to berry-producing ornamental plants and feeders, especially those with sunflower seeds. They will also drink maple sap by snapping off small twigs.
Biology and Behaviour:
Evening Grosbeaks are irregular breeders in Ontario since they follow Spruce Budworm outbreaks and base their breeding off of their success. Any adults that migrate to the United States for the winter arrive at their Ontario breeding grounds in late April or early May. Females build a nest high on a conifer branch out of twigs and roots. They lay 3-4 eggs which are incubated for about two weeks. Nestlings are fed for another two weeks before they leave the nest. Researchers have recorded the oldest Evening Grosbeak to be 15 years old, but the average age is around 3-4 years. Known predators include raptors and domestic cats, and nests may be preyed on by corvids.
- The American Goldfinch is much smaller with a smaller bill, and male has a black cap
- The female Evening Grosbeak looks similar to the Pine Grosbeak, but the Pine Grosbeak has a black beak and is more grey-tinged than yellow
Conservation and recovery strategies:
An estimated 9% of their Canadian habitat is on protected land, with most of their range on public land. More research on their northern range should be conducted. Surveys tend to be biased towards southern parts of their range which are more heavily populated. Since this species is listed as Special Concern in Ontario, there are no direct conservation efforts for population and habitat at this time.
- The unexpected presence of an Evening Grosbeak may be an early indicator of Spruce Budworm infestation
- Populations of Evening Grosbeaks increased after decades of fire suppression resulted in more available boreal forest habitat. Numbers have been declining in relation to increased logging of these forests
- Evening Grosbeaks show a strong preference for Manitoba Maple seeds, which are often planted ornamentally
COSEWIC. 2016. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Evening Grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. xi + 64 pp.
Hoar, T. 2007. Evening Grosbeak. Pages 626-627 in Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Edited by M.D. Cadman, D.A. Sutherland, G.G. Beck, D. Lepage, and A.R. Couturier. Published by Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Ontario Nature. 706 pp
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