Friday, November 16, 2012

Ready for Grosbeaks

Friday, November 16, 2012
"Band of Gold: Evening Grosbeaks" by Julie Zickefoose
 I've heard their calls once or twice this season, flying overhead, unseen. I've also heard the voices of bird watchers, breathless with excitement, after capturing a glimpse of these dynamic birds with the massive bills and mustard-colored plumage. Evening grosbeaks!

Yes it seems that this is an invasion year for grosbeaks and other members of the finch family, too, including pine siskins (currently EVERYwhere), purple finches, a few redpolls, and both flavors of crossbill (we still have just two crossbill species in North America as I write this, though the "splitters" are hard at work).

It's been years since we had a serious influx of evening grosbeaks here in southeastern Ohio. I remember a couple of visits to our bird feeders in the early 1990s, but that's about it. Of course many local birders—in fact many bird watchers in the Midwest recall the huge northern finch incursions during the late 1970s. The winters of 1977-78 and 1978-79 were among the coldest and snowiest in modern times. And we had colorful, feisty flocks of finches covering our feeders. I remember filling the feeders almost daily and watching hundreds of evening grosbeaks and common redpolls descending to gorge themselves. We'd started Bird Watcher's Digest in the fall of 1978 in our house, and all the bird watchers' chatter and newspaper articles about the winter finch invasion gave us great encouragement to keep the magazine going.

The male evening grosbeak from Willard Bay State Park in Utah.
The last evening grosbeak I set eyes on was a male lagging behind a small flock of his species in a riverside forest just north of Salt Lake City, Utah. I was birding there with two friends on a morning off during the Great Salt Lake Birding Festival. Seeing a gorgeous male grosbeak, singing and foraging, in green leaves was a bit of a context shift for me. You can read the full story of that birding adventure in this earlier post from this very blog.

Julie's quick snapshot of one of this year's grosbeaks in our gray birch tree.
Julie called me last Tuesday with the happy news that a small flock of grosbeaks dropped into our yard, foraged below the hopper feeder, then vanished. Even my mom reported a flyover evening grosbeak back in October. Now that people all over the region have seen evening grosbeaks, I am getting fully prepared. I know that evening grosbeaks prefer sunflower seed offered on a platform, so I built what may be the world's largest platform feeder by placing an old, weathered piece of siding across the corner of our deck railing. Crafty of me, huh? I poured a large bucket of black-oil sunflower seed onto it and stepped back. Ten seconds later a tufted titmouse dropped in for a seed.

Here's my gargantuan feeder, with my hat and a tiny tufted titmouse for size perspective. Now how could any passing evening grosbeak not notice this? I'm thinking about making some grosbeak decoys (out of French's mustard bottles) and using my iPod to play grosbeak flock calls out the window. But I'm NOT desperate. Not at all.


On November 16, 2012 at 9:08 PM Connie said...

I'm inspired!

Platform feeders are my favorite type. Don't care that they are sometimes covered with, ahem, "undesirables", they are the best feeder in the world.

Definitely gonna put a few more out this week.

Here birdy, birdy, birdy.

On November 21, 2012 at 6:35 PM Unknown said...

That IS cool! However, it's kind of sad that I've never seen one in our area. Aww... Oh well. :)

-Mr. Bird

On December 5, 2012 at 10:46 PM jacobmontereal said...
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On December 30, 2012 at 9:37 PM Laura W. said...

I share your non-desperate feeling when I hear them fly over. Maybe you should write GROSBEAK in sunflower seeds and see if that helps? I hope they visit you soon!