Evening Grosbeak

Coccothraustes vespertinus

Evening_Grosbeak_Male_At_Feeder_3-8-16.jpg

Photo of a male evening grosbeak eating sunflower seeds at a feeder.
In Missouri winters, when flocks of evening grosbeaks appear at backyard birdfeeders, it creates a local sensation.
Jim Rathert
Family

Fringillidae (finches) in the order Passeriformes

Description

Evening grosbeak male upperparts are yellow, with black wings and tail and a brownish wash on the head and back; the white secondary feathers create a large white patch on the wing. The forehead and eyebrow are yellow. The large, conical bill is ivory. Underparts are yellow, with a brownish wash on the throat and upper breast. In females, the upperparts are grayish tan, with black wings and tail; the wing has a white patch at the base of the primaries, the secondaries are white, and there is a white tip to the tail feathers. The neck collar is yellow. Underparts are grayish yellow. Song is a hesitant warble, not often heard in Missouri. Call is a short, harsh peeer given frequently in flight.

Similar species: American goldfinches are much smaller (sparrow-sized), while evening grosbeaks are sized like a chunky robin with a relatively short tail. Because evening grosbeaks usually appear in flocks in Missouri, you usually see several males and females appearing together.

Size

Length: 8 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

Evening_Grosbeak_Male_3-8-16.jpg

Photo of a male evening grosbeak.
Evening Grosbeak (Male)
Male evening grosbeaks are yellow and brown, with black and white wings. The forehead and eyebrow are yellow; the bill is ivory.

Evening_Grosbeak_Female_3-8-16.jpg

Photo of a female evening grosbeak.
Evening Grosbeak (Female)
Female evening grosbeaks are robin-sized, grayish tan, with black wings and tail that are marked with white patches.

Evening_Grosbeak.jpg

Photo of a male evening grosbeak
Evening Grosbeak Male
Habitat and conservation

Rare winter resident foraging for seeds, insects, buds, and fruits in woodlands (especially those with box elders), in shrubby areas, in backyards, and in and around conifers. It is sporadically present in Missouri, depending on flocks wandering into the state. It frequently visits birdfeeders for sunflower seeds.

Foods

When most Missourians see evening grosbeaks, the birds are at birdfeeders devouring sunflower seeds. They eat many other seeds and fruits, including box elder and maple, ash, and tulip poplar seeds, plus cherry, apple, crabapple, hawthorn, and juniper fruits. They come to Missouri in winter in years when pinecone seeds, farther north, are insufficient for their numbers. During the breeding season, they switch to insects, which provide extra protein for their nestlings.

Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

As a winter resident, rare and sporadic. Accidental summer visitor (nonbreeding).

Life cycle

Evening grosbeaks primarily live in northern North America and in the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains, where they breed in coniferous forests. In years where pine seeds are not abundant, many of these birds “irrupt” (suddenly expand their range) south- and eastward during the winter. Because they travel in flocks, the sudden, unexpected appearance of these large, attractive birds at wintertime birdfeeders in Missouri creates a local sensation.

Human connections

In the early 1900s, evening grosbeaks expanded their range into the Northeast, apparently in part because people had planted lots of box elders in that region. Box elders provide evening grosbeaks a source of wintertime seed.

Today, logging and spraying for insect pests may be reducing available habitat and food in their breeding territory.

Ecosystem connections

Many of the insects eaten during breeding season are serious pests. For example, this grosbeak and some other birds play an important role in preventing large outbreaks of spruce budworm. Large outbreaks of that insect can defoliate acres of balsam firs, spruces, pines, and other conifers.