Gros­beaks: Here one day, gone the next

Stun­ning birds are in­fre­quent back­yard vis­i­tors, but a vis­ual treat when they do me­an­der in

The Taos News - - HOME AND GARDEN - By Anne Sch­mauss

Evening gros­beaks are stun­ning, stocky birds and you’ll know it if you see one in your back­yard. They aren’t loyal back­yard vis­i­tors though.

Evening gros­beaks are an ir­reg­u­lar (or ir­rup­tive) species, so they don’t fol­low pre­dictable mi­gra­tory pat­terns. We are in their year-round range, but we can’t count on their con­sis­tent pres­ence.

They float around look­ing for avail­able food, so when they make an ap­pear­ance in your back­yard, watch care­fully be­cause they might move on the next day. We see them less often in the sum­mer be­cause they eat far more in­sects dur­ing nest­ing sea­son, switch­ing to more seed come fall and win­ter.

We also see more evening gros­beaks in colder months be­cause they travel in flocks and are more no­tice­able.

Evening gros­beaks eat in­sects, berries, nuts and buds, and they love sun­flower seeds at back­yard bird feed­ers. You’ll also com­monly see them eat­ing at seed and nut cylin­ders. They some­times feed on road gravel for min­er­als, salt and grit to grind the seeds they eat.

They are one of the few birds ca­pa­ble of crush­ing wild cherry pits with their bill. The mas­sive bill of the evening gros­beak is one sure-fire way of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Both male and fe­male have the same large, thick bill, which is ivory to light green.

Like many birds, the male is over­all brighter in color. Male evening gros­beaks have a yel­low body, black head with yel­low eye­brow, black wings and tail with white wing patches. The fe­male is pale gray­ish-brown with black and white wings and tail. You can often see their dis­tinc­tive white wing patches flash­ing in flight as they cruise into or out of your back­yard.

The Cor­nell Lab of Or­nithol­ogy tells us that “evening gros­beaks are nu­mer­ous and wide­spread, but pop­u­la­tions dropped steeply be­tween 1966 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to the North Amer­i­can Breed­ing Bird Sur­vey – par­tic­u­larly in the East where num­bers de­clined by 97 per­cent dur­ing that time. Part­ners in Flight es­ti­mates a global breed­ing pop­u­la­tion of

4.1 mil­lion, with 71 per­cent spend­ing some part of the year in the U.S., 57 per­cent in Canada, and 5 per­cent in Mex­ico.

Evening gros­beak rates a 13 out of 20 on the Con­ti­nen­tal Con­cern Score and is on the

2016 state of North Amer­ica’s birds watch list, which in­cludes bird species that are most at risk of ex­tinc­tion with­out sig­nif­i­cant con­ser­va­tion ac­tions to re­verse de­clines and re­duce threats.

Cor­nell lists cli­mate change, log­ging, dis­ease and ae­rial spray­ing, which re­duces the num­ber of for­est in­sects that evening gros­beaks eat, as some of the causes of their de­cline.

Anne Sch­mauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Un­lim­ited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird sto­ries. She is the au­thor of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to At­tract­ing Birds to Your Back­yard and Bird­houses of the World.

Cour­tesy photo Sarah Nel­son

A male evening gros­beak pays North­ern New Mex­ico a visit re­cently.

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