Male evening grosbeaks are yellow with black wings and tail and a brownish wash on the head and back, while females are grayish tan with black wings and tail. Their large, conical bills are ivory colored. Their song is a hesitant warble, not often heard in Missouri, while their call is a short, harsh peeer given frequently in flight. Though mistaken for American goldfinches, grosbeaks are the size of a chunky robin as compared to the more diminutive sparrow-sized goldfinch.
Rare, sporadic in winter. Accidental in summer.
Evening grosbeaks primarily live in northern North America and the Rocky Mountains, where they breed in coniferous forests. In years when pine seeds are scarce, many of these birds expand their range east and south in the winter. Because they travel in flocks, the sudden, unexpected appearance of grosbeaks at wintertime feeders is a treat for Missouri bird-watchers.
Show-Me birders are likely to get a glimpse of evening grosbeaks at feeders, devouring sunflower seeds. Grosbeaks also favor other seeds and fruits, including box elder and maple, ash, and tulip poplar seeds, plus cherry, apple, crabapple, hawthorn, and juniper fruits. During the breeding season, they switch to insects, which provide extra protein for their nestlings.
Grosbeaks play an important role in preventing large outbreaks of insects that are considered serious pests. For example, evening grosbeaks eat spruce budworm, which can defoliate acres of balsam firs, spruces, pines, and other conifers.
In the early 1900s, evening grosbeaks expanded their range into the Northeast due in part to an abundant planting of box elder trees. Today, logging and spraying for insect pests may be reducing available habitat and food in their breeding territory.
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