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Rare visitors to my bird feeder

“Oh, we hardly ever see those!” I exclaimed, as I rushed to the window earlier this winter for a closer look at the yellow bird perched at our feeder. Unlike the smaller American goldfinches that visit in large groups on a regular basis, evening grosbeaks have been rare sightings in my thirty-plus years living in Ormstown.

Growing up in Eastern Ontario in the 1970’s, I remember large flocks of these big, heavy-set finches visiting the feeders my father tended. However, since settling here in the Valley, I’ve only seen evening grosbeaks a few times, and only in small groups. Our yard is ideal for birds: a mix of open space, gardens, bushes, deciduous and coniferous trees, alongside the Outardes river and beside a neighbour’s small woods. But still, there had been hardly any visits from the eye-catching yellow birds that used to land on my outstretched arms as I stood patiently beside Dad’s feeders in the winters of my youth. I’ve often wondered if, when I moved an hour southeast, I had simply moved outside of their territory; but after a little research on allaboutbirds.org, a fantastic free resource run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I learned that the year-round range of the evening grosbeaks spreads across all of southern Canada, including here in the Valley. They normally breed in coniferous forests and are well-known for their fall and winter irruptions, when they can be found in large numbers far outside their breeding range.

 

Like many bird species the male evening grosbeak has brighter plumage than the female Grosbeaks thick conical bills are ideal for cracking black sunflower seeds but our hopper or house feeder is better suited to the smaller goldfinch ILLUSTRATION Lorelei Muller

 

So, where have the evening grosbeaks gone?

While Environment and Climate Change Canada quotes different sources for varying population estimates of 2 million or more individuals in Canada, its Management Plan for the Evening Grosbeak notes that the species was assessed as Special Concern by COSEWIC in 2016 and listed under the Species at Risk Act in 2019: “This large finch is widely distributed across Canada’s forests, but has exhibited significant long-term declines (77 to 90 per cent) over most of its range since 1970.” The causes for its decline are unclear, but the usual suspects of land development, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change are under consideration.

Back to my yard

Thinking it strange to see the male grosbeak on its own, I was pleased to see another two and a female soon join it in search of sunflower seeds.  They didn’t stay long; they’d probably prefer a platform feeder over our hopper feeders which are better suited to smaller birds.  If we (and by “we”, I mean my husband Linus) can figure out how to squirrel-proof a platform feeder, I’d be happy to welcome them back with a dining station more suited to their size.

What about you?

Do evening grosbeaks visit your feeders?  Do you remember more of them visiting in decades gone by? Have you had special sightings of other birds or creatures in your yard? Submit your nature news or questions to info@the-gleaner.com.

Feederwatch.org describes an irruption as a “sudden change in the population density of an organism. When speaking of birds, irruptions refer to the movement of northern-wintering species to the south in years of low food availability. Irruptive species include redpolls, evening grosbeaks, and red-breasted nuthatches, among others.’
COSEWIC: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

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