If your black oil sunflower seeds are vanishing at an alarming rate, and your feeders seem especially crowded and noisy, the “grocery beaks” may be paying you a visit! If you have the honor of hosting them this year, you're lucky -- our population of Evening Grosbeaks has declined 78% in the last 40 years.
Photo of Evening Grosbeak dining on Value Sunflower Chips
Evening Grosbeaks are gregarious, colorful members of the finch family, with an erratic schedule for visiting Portland area bird feeders! We’re most likely to see them in the spring as they stop at sunflower feeders to dine before continuing their journeys to breeding grounds in the Cascade Mountain Range.
About the size of a robin, these finches can appear almost parrot-like to the untrained eye! The male Evening Grosbeak is truly a color spectacle – a large, stocky yellow body accented with black crown and tail, further contrasted with black and white wings. Females are more camouflaged for nest-sitting: grayish-tan all over, with the same black and white wings. Both males and females sport heavy conical bills that are perfect for cracking sunflower seeds!
Traveling in flocks of 12 to 50 birds, Evening Grosbeaks can consume significant quantities of their favorite feeder food – black oil sunflower seed! It is said that they were given their name by an early ornithologist who believed that when stirred from its roost at night, the bird would give a peeer call. As those of us who host the “grocery beaks” in our backyards know, their call can be heard during the day as well!
When not chowing down on sunflower seeds at a backyard feeder, Evening Grosbeaks eat a variety of fruits and nuts, buds, sap and berries. They really like maple seeds, and also eat insects and other invertebrates.
Why has the population of Evening Grosbeaks plummeted so precipitously in the last 40 years? National Audubon Society says “Evening Grosbeaks are birds of boreal and montane forests and are therefore susceptible to all the incursions into those habitats: logging, mining, drilling, acid rain, and human development for transportation and housing. Chemical control of spruce budworm and other tree pests lowers this species’ food supply.”
What can we do to help? (1) Supply the migrating Evening Grosbeaks with their favorite seed, black oil sunflower, when they stop over in our area during their spring migration. (2) Keep your feeders sanitized—wash them regularly in a solution of 10% household chlorine bleach and 90% water to disinfect them, then dry thoroughly before refilling. (3) Find natural solutions to pest control in your lawn and garden to reduce your use of chemicals that eliminate insects that Evening Grosbeaks and other songbirds will eat.
National Audubon Society recommends that we should also pay attention to politics: (1) encourage the preservation of boreal habitat for all birds, specifically by fighting inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling, and by promoting the designation of protected areas, and (2) back strong federal, state, and local legislation to cap greenhouse emissions, and spur alternative energy sources to retard global warming, which could ruin the forests that Evening Grosbeaks and other birds rely upon.