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Pine Grosbeak

These birds are wildly known for their beautiful pink plumage.

The Pine Grosbeak is a large finch found at high latitudes and in western mountain ranges. Its winter irruptions into other areas are infrequent and relatively small in area. Territorial while nesting, the Pine Grosbeak often occurs in flocks during the rest of the year, but does not normally associate with other bird species.

During the nesting season, Pine Grosbeaks develop a pouch in their lower jaw that is used to carry food back to the nest. The young birds are fed a regurgitated mixture of insects and plant foods. As adults, Pine Grosbeaks often return to the same breeding and wintering areas each year.


Description of the Pine Grosbeak


The Pine Grosbeak is stocky, with a short, thick bill, and variably gray underparts.  Two white wing-bars are prominent on blackish wings.

Males have a reddish head, back, and rump and a variable amount of reddish on the breast and belly.  Length: 9 in.  Wingspan: 14 in.

Pine Grosbeak

Photograph © Glenn Bartley.


Females are typically greenish on the head and rump and gray below.

Seasonal change in appearance



Similar to adult females.


Pine Grosbeaks breed in coniferous forests, but can be found in a variety of woodlands in winter.


Pine Grosbeaks eat buds, berries, seeds, and insects.

Pine Grosbeak

Female. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.


Pine Grosbeaks forage in trees and shrubs, usually moving slowly.


Pine Grosbeaks breed in Alaska, Canada, and parts of the western U.S. They are irruptive in some winters, occurring far south of their normal range.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Pine Grosbeak.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History


Fun Facts

Pine Grosbeaks are often quite tame and allow a close approach.

Southern invasion years create excitement for birders who rarely get to see such northern species.


The song is a soft warble of notes, and a variety of whistled flight calls are given also.


Will visit feeders for sunflower.


Similar Species

Red Crossbill
Red Crossbills are smaller and have crossed mandibles.

Purple and House Finches are smaller and are heavily streaked.


The nest is a cup of twigs and weeds and lined with softer materials. It is usually placed on a branch or fork of a conifer tree.

Usually lay 2-5 eggs.


Bluish-green with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 13-14 days, and leave the nest in another 14-21 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Pine Grosbeak

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Pine Grosbeak – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



One winter morning many years ago, during my boyhood days, I looked out of one of our windows and was surprised to see a number of strange birds in one of our maple trees; they were sitting quietly or moving about slowly, apparently feeding on the leaf buds; they looked very plump and seemed to be dark gray in color. Even after one was shot, I could not identify it until I had consulted the bird books in the public library and decided that it was a pine grosbeak. We saw much of them that winter, and we boys amused ourselves by catching them under a sieve, propped up by a stick with a string attached to it. They were so tame that we could walk up to them and almost catch them in our hands. We kept one rosy male in a large cage, where he proved to be a docile pet and a good singer, but we released him in the spring.

This grosbeak makes its summer home in the coniferous forests of Canada, northern New England, and possibly in some of the extreme northern parts of some of the more western States. It breeds as far north as the limit of trees in northern Canada, from the Anderson River region to northern Ungava and Labrador. South of the Canadian border it is rare or extremely local.

Courtship: Dr. and Mrs. J. Murray Speirs observed courtship feeding near North Bay, Ontario, on Mar. 30, 1944. Mrs. Speirs writes that, while snow was falling with a southwest wind, a male that bad been feeding on willow buds flew suddenly toward a female also present. From the eminence of a raspberry cane 6 inches above the female the male reached down toward her and offered something large and white which she accepted. The male then glanced upward, and both birds flitted their tails. The female then ate a few shriveled raspberry seeds that were still clinging to the cane and twice during the process reached up and pecked her mate under the tail. Both birds then flew off with bouncing flight.

Nesting: MacFarlane (1891) reported a nest in northern Mackensie, of which he says: “In the spring of 1861 an Indian discovered a nest of this species ow a pine tree some 60 miles south of Fort Anderson, but unfortunately while descending therewith he fell and destroyed both nest and eggs; and although we frequently observed some birds at the post and elsewhere, we never succeeded in finding another nest.” In another publication (1908) he refers to this same nest as being “in a spruce tree,” which seems more likely.

James Bond writes to me of a nest found by Edward Finkel near Mount Lewis on the Gasp~ Peninsula on July 17, 1946. He says that “it was in the crotch of a low shrub, about 2 feet above the ground and that the trunk was about 2 inches in diameter.” It contained two small young. Harry B. Goldstein, a member of the party, writes to me that the nest “was compactly built; its foundation was composed of small twigs and roots; the interior was made up of very fine rootlets, fine bits of grasses and lichens.”

Harold F. Tufts (1910) gives an interesting account of the finding of a nest of the pine grosbeak near Shelburne, Nova Scotia, on June 10, 1910: “The wood road which I was following led through a large area of wet bog or mossy swamp, rather thickly overgrown with stunted spruce and hackmatack and scattered bunches of swamp maple and laurel bushes.” By following up a singing male he found the mate and followed her:

Following the course taken by the female as nearly as I could, I searched carefully among the dense]y branched spruces for a nest. After nearly an hour of plunging through the bog, knee deep in water and slime, till darkness was setting in and failure seemed certain, finally I noted a dark mass some fifteen feet up in a slender young spruce, close to its top. Giving the tree a slight tap with my hand the bird flew off and I was delighted to recognize the female Pine Grosbeak as she fluttered about close at hand.

The nest, a rather bulky sprawiog affair of twigs and grasses, resembled somewhat in both situation and general make-up that of the Blue Jay. The three eggs were rather advanced in incubation, containing young well formed: but with the use of caustic potash the shells were properly emptied.

Positive evidence of nesting in Maine was furnished by Miss Marie Kaizer Maddox, who wrote to Ora W. Knight (1908) as follows: “Four years ago in the month of May I found a Pine Grosbeak’s nest about seven miles north of Jackman, near a sporting camp at Hale Pond. The nest was not in thick woods but in open pasture near the Canada Road. It was woven of twigs and moss, lined with rabbit’s hair and contained four pale-green eggs, flecked with purple and hardly to be distinguished from the moss itself. This nest was in a fir tree about four feet from the ground. It was neatly woven but much less substantial than most nests of that size. Probably the fact that the region is three thousand feet above sea level accounts for a nest in that latitude.”

Henry Nehrling (1896) writes: “I am in the happy situation to report of the Pine Grosbeak’s breed~g in northern Wisconsin. Mr. A. J. Schoenebeck found a nest of this bird May 5,1890, near Boyd’s Creek, six miles west of Chaguamegon Bay, Bayfleld County, Wis. It was built in a hemlock about nine feet above the ground and seven feet from the trunk. The ground was dry and the forest consisted of deciduous and coniferous trees. The structure was composed of hemlock and other twigs, and the interior of grasses and rootlets, lined with finer grasses and a little moss.”

Eggs: The pine grosbeak lays from two to five eggs with four being the most frequent number. They are ovate to elongated ovate, and have a slight luster. The ground is “deep bluish glaucous,” “bluish glaucous,” “court gray,” or “Etain blue”; speckled, spotted, and blotched with shades of “dark grayish olive,” “dark olive,” “bone brown,” “mummy brown,” and black, with undermarkings which may be in the form either of small spots or blotches of “light mouse gray” or “light neutral gray.” Some eggs are uniformly marked over the entire surface; others have a decided concentration toward the large end where often a wreath is formed.

The measurements of 40 eggs average 26.0 by 18.3 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 28.8 by 18.2, 25.9 by 19.3, and 22.4 by 17.0 millimeters.

Young: Miss Maddox wrote further to Knight (1908): “I find that the incubation was completed on May 27, being the thirteenth day after the fourth and last egg of the clutch appeared in the nest. The female bird as far as I could learn did all the sitting. Several times I surprised the male bringing her food and saw her leave the nest and receive it from him, near but never on the nest. Both parent birds fed the fledglings after they left the nest, which occurred the twentieth day after they were hatched.”

Plumages: Dwight (1900) describes the juvenal plumage of the pine grosbeak as follows: “Above, bistre, tinged on crown and rump with dull ochre-yellow. Wings and tail clove-brown with pale buff edgings sometimes whitish especially on tertiaries and tail. Wing bands indistinct, pale buff. Below, hair-brown or drab, washed, especially on breast and sides, with ocliraceous, the feather edgings wood-brown.” The sexes are alike.

The first winter plumage is acquired by a partial postjuvenal molt, beginning early in September and involving the contour plumage and the wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings nor the tail. He describes this plumage in the young male as follows: “Above, chiefly pale olive-brown, sometimes with reddish or yellowish tinge veiled with smoke-gray edgings; the crown, auriculars, rump and upper tail coverts ochre to gallstone-yellow, often orange, the feathers dark centrally, usually a sprinkling of brick-red feathers and sometimes the yellows completely replaced by red, occasionally carmine. Below, smoke-gray, the breast and throat usually with some red and yellow not very pronounced.

“Wing coverts tipped with white forming two distinct bands the lesser coverts plumbeous and ochre tinged.”

The first nuptial is “acquired by wear, brightening [the] colors and assuming a golden sheen, this optical effect being due to loss of barbules * * ~ A complete postnuptial molt occurs in late summer or early fall, producing the well-known pinkish plumage of the adult winter male. Wear again produces the brighter colors seen in the spring.

Of the plumages of the female, Dwight says: “In juvenal plumage the sexes are practically indistinguishable. In first winter plumage duller than the corresponding dress of the male; above, olive brown with smoke-gray edgings, the crown and rump ochre or dull oliveyellow, entirely smoke-gray below. The adult winter plumage is similar to male first winter, but duller with only a tinge of red at most on crown, rump or breast.”

Food: Knight (1908) says that, in Maine, the pine grosbeaks “eat buds of the maple, elm, birch, apple, mountain ash, elder, pear, poplar, willow and other native trees, and the seeds of birch, hackmatack, pines, fir, spruce and in general almost any of the grass and weed seeds at a pinch. Their prime choice in the free state is seemingly crab-apples, mountain ash fruit, pine seeds and maple buds. My captive birds eagerly ate flies, beetles, angle worms, caterpillars and insects of other kinds.”

Forbush (1929) adds: “Among the fruits eaten are those of the bush or mountain cranberry, barberry, mountain ash or rowan tree, Virginia juniper or red cedar, crabapple, apple, black alder, privet, hawthorn, buckthorn, sumac, Japanese barberry and waxwork (C’elastrus scanden.s). * * * It takes also seeds of roses. It is very fond of sunflower seeds and eats those of hemp, burdock, ragweed, lamb’s quarters and other weeds.”

Ira N. Gabrielson (1924) reported on 394 stomachs of which 365 were taken during the winter months, October to March, inclusive. Distribution was from Alaska, 5 Provinces of Canada, and 13 States. He says the pine grosbeak “feeds in flocks which usually settle down in one tree or more and feed for some time, making a full meal on one variety of fruit or seed if not disturbed. Local conditions, such as relative abundance and availability, probably govern the selection of food. For example, a series of stomachs from New Hampshire contained little except seeds of blackberries (Rubus) and the staminate flower buds of pine. When both gizzard and gullet were examined it was usual to find the gizzard filled with one of these foods and the gullet with the other. * * * Stomachs of a series from British Columbia were filled with seeds of snowberry (Symphoricarpos).”

Continuing, Gabrielson says winter food was 99.1 percent vegetable. Rubus seeds occurred in 207 stomachs and amounted to 14.37 percent of the winter food. Coniferous buds were found in 166 stomachs and made 24.22 percent. “Both had been taken from many different regions by birds which were collected in every winter month.” Other items show high percentages because they constitute the entire content of a few stomachs from one locality, as snowberry, which amounted to 17.3 percent, having been eaten almost exclusively by 69 birds in one place. Weed seeds formed 7.67 percent of the diet, juniper berries and other coniferous seeds 4.15 percent. He lists a great variety of wild fruit, which totaled 14.34 percent. Mast, probably composed largely of beechnuts or acorns, was 5.66 percent. The various forms of animal food listed were nearly all found in coniferous buds and may well have been devoured accidentally with them.

Gabrielson says the few summer stomachs contained 83.83 percent vegetable food and 16.17 percent animal. The percentage of wild fruit was higher; maple and ash seeds were absent. Grasshoppers, ants, spiders, and caterpillars accounted for 15.08 percent of the total food. There were a few small flies and beetles.

In Nova Scotia in July Harrison F. Lewis observed a bird eating ripe fruit of Amelanchier, or shad bush. The bird would pick one fruit at a time, manipulate it in its beak, extract and swallow the seed. The outer skin and attached pulp fell to the ground. A day later his wife watched a male which seemed to be eating scales of rust off a fence-wire. Another bird, in female plumage, was noted the following day picking repeatedly at the ground on bare, gravelly soil. There could have been wind-blown seeds present. Another summering bird ate the seeds of mountain holly, Nemopanihys mucronata, in fashion similar to that employed on the shad bush.

William Youngworth (1955b) mentions seeing a bird splitting the green seed pods and extracting the seeds of a Persian lilac.

Maurice Brooks (1956) in referring to an invasion into West Virginia during the winter of 1954: 55 states that the birds “fed on frozen fruits (particularly apples), seeds of maple and white ash, and on some portion of the twigs of conifers, especially pitch pine (Finite rigida). In addition they made extensive use of other plant foods, some of which would not be available northward. These included seeds of tulip poplar, wild grapes (ViUe sp.), black haw and wild raisin (Viburnum prunifolium and V. cassinoides), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and greenbrier (Smilax sp.).” The birds were also noted feeding on fruits of staghorn sumach (Rhus hirta).

R. E. Muruford wrote Mr. Bent of observing birds on Dec. 2, 1951, eating the red berries of nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, during an invasion into Indiana. One bird fed on the jack pine cones (Pinus banksiana). Birds also ate the seeds of a planted variety of privet and of a cultivated honeysuckle.

Albert E. Allin writes Taber that the fruit of the “Rowan tree,” actually the showy mountain ash, Pyrus decora, is by far the most favored food for the great numbers of pine grosbeaks wintering in the region of Fort William, Ontario. Initially, the birds feed in the trees. Melting snow in the spring reveals a further food supply on the ground. Next in favor come lilacs, probably Syringa rillosa. Ornamental apples (crabs) are, perhaps, equally popular once the rowan crop has been depleted. Stragglers remaining after the main flocks of birds have moved on southerly or in other directions feed at times off the samaras of the black ash, Frarinus nigra, and, at times, partake of high-bush cranberries, Viburnum tritobum. Occasionally birds feed off the box elder, Acer negundo, and white birch, Betula pa iirif era.

Behavior: In Newfoundland, the pine grosbeak is called “the mope,” a most appropriate name for a bird that spends so much time sitting still or moving about very slowly. When with us in winter it is surprisingly tame or unafraid, allowing closer approach than does any of our other common birds.

It seems stupidly tame; one has no difficulty in catching it in the simplest trap, with a slip noose, or in a hand net; I have tried picking it up by hand, but have never quite succeeded. It adapts itself readily to captivity and makes an attractive pet. Knight (1908) says that “one never knows the real loveliness of their character until he has studied them close at hand for a protracted period as was my privilege for about seven years. In captivity the male sings almost continuously during the morning hours and more or less during the whole day in the spring months, and though not quite as full of music at other seasons, there is hardly a day in the year but that my captive birds sang more or less.”

Edgar A. Mearns (1880) writes: “They appear to be utterly devoid of fear of man. If their ranks are thinned by the gunner, the survivors will rarely be driven away, but come close up to the hunter and hop from branch to branch in his vicinity, scrutinizing him closely and uttering a reproachful note like that of the Fox Sparrow (Pa8serella iliaca); they often fly down to inspect the dead bodies of their companions lying upon the ground.”

The flight of the pine grosbeak is slightly undulating, but not so much so as with the woodpeckers or the goldfinch.

Forbush (1929) says: “During the winter these birds bathe in the soft snow, standing in it, either on the ground or on the thick foliage of coniferous trees, fluttering their wings and throwing the snowspray over their plumage in the same manner in which many birds bathe in water.”

Voice: Mearns (1880) pays the following tribute to the song of this bird:

The Pine Grosbeak’s song is one of the finest, but I have only been privileged to listen to it on a single occasion: in March, 1875. * * * ~~ was one frosty morning, as I was following the course of a stream that flowed at the bottom of a deep ravine, that I heard, most unexpectedly, a new song. It proceeded from far up the glen. The notes were loud, rich and sweet. I listened to them with a thrili of delight and wonder, and then pressed forward to identify the new vocalist. Soon I discovered perched upon the top of a tall hemlock, a beautiful red Pine Groebeak: the author of one of the most delicious songs that I ever heard. Its carmine or rose-colored plumage, and its mellow notes, were a feast alike to the eye and ear; and, though I may never hear the Pine Grosbeak sing again, I shall ever cherish towards it feelings of admiration and gratitude for the revelation of beauty and melody which I so keenly appreciated on that occasion.

Wendell Taber writes that the flight song may be classified as somewhat of the type of the purple finch. The song of the latter bird, however, is rather slurred, with one note running into the next. No confusion between the two songs is possible. The song of the pine grosbeak is a sweet melodious carol, loud and distinct, and carries quite a distance. Each note is clear-whistled rapidly and is separated by an infinitesimal break from the next succeeding note. The various commonly heard call notes are scattered at intervals through the song and are easily recognizable individually. The song covers a much wider range of pitch, especially in the upper range, than does that of the purple finch.

Harrison F. Lewis writes of a bird singing near his home in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, in the early afternoon of Mar. 23, 1953, a sunny day with maximum temperature of about 600 F. He has recorded two types of song. The ordinary song is a short, continuous musical warble, not loud, but weak and altogether lacking in vigor and emphasis, in marked contrast to the vigorous, ardent song of the purple finch, which it otherwise somewhat resembles. The song gives the impression of flowing forth without the exercise of any effort on the part of the bird either to utter it or to terminate it. The singer does not seem interested in its song. Sung from a perch in a tree, each song continues for 2 seconds or a little more. He considers the flight song as being much less vigorous than that of the purple finch.

Knight (1908) says: “Though it is a pleasure to watch a flock of these warmly clothed, plump, robust birds feeding cheerfully on a cold winter morning, the real pleasure of knowing them has not been reached until the song of the male has been heard. Soft, tender, ventriloquial and caressing at times, at others rising clear and loud but always full of trills and warbles, the song of the Pine Grosbeak easily places it on equal footing with any of our song birds.”

He also mentions “a peculiar querulous whistled caree or c-r-r-r-u or ca-r–a-r,” which is evidently a note of warning, “for when one of a flock of feeding birds utters it all cease feeding and stand transfixed, looking cautiously about for danger or suddenly taking flight.” Another call, often uttered when a bird has just alighted, “sounds like a warbled pee-ah-pree-pu” and is “designed to call others to the spot. When feeding they keep up a low whistled conversation among themselves.”

Francis H. Allen has sent me the following notes: “On June 28, 1888, Bradford Torrey and I found two or three singing males on Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire. The song most resembled that of the purple finch but was sweeter, wilder, and more interesting. It was really a beautiful song.

“Besides the familiar flight call, suggestive of that of the greater yellowlegs, the pine grosbeak has when feeding a soft, short whistle, sometimes with a little roll in it, but usually unmodulated.”

Wendell Taber had the experience of having four birds fly in and alight beside him, uttering the while an amplified version of the common flight call of the goldfinch. The imitation was so perfect that Oscar M. Root, some 30 yards distant, turned to look for goldfinches.

Field marks: The pine grosbeak can generally be recognized by its shape; it is a plump, stocky bird, about the size of a robin, but much more robust, with a short, stubby black bill, two white wing bars, and a slightly forked tail. Except in the rosy: colored males, the colors are not conspicuous, the females showing only dull yellowish ochre on the crowns and rumps. They are stolid birds and very deliberate in their movements.

Winter: Pine grosbeaks are not strictly migratory. They do not make regular latitudinal movements in spring and fall. Those individuals that spend the summer in the mountains of northern New England move down into the lowlands for the winter, while those that breed farther north at lower elevations either remain on or near their breeding grounds throughout the year or move southward when their food supply becomes scarce and they are forced to look for it elsewhere. These movements are irregular and erratic, sometimes insignificant in numbers, but at other times so impressive in volume as to be called invasions. J. Murray Speirs (1939) has published some data showing that, in the vicinity of Toronto, periods of greatest abundance have occurred at intervals of 5 or 6 years, usually 6. The records for Massachusetts show intervals of only 2 years in one case, 5 years in two, and 6 years in one case, with some longer intervals between invasions. Ludlow Griscom (1923), referring to the New York City region, says: “There have been ten marked flights in the past ninety-six years, the last in the winter of 1903-04. The last eighteen years is the longest interval between flights of which I have any record.” Some of the greatest invasions into Massachusetts occurred in the winters of 1869: 70, 1874: 75, 1892: 93, and 1903: 04. William Brewster (1895) has published a full account of the remarkable ffight that occurred during the winter of 1892: 93, to which the reader is referred.

That these great southward flights are not caused by severe winters is shown by their absence during some of our hardest winters and their presence in large numbers during some of our mildest and most open winters. The movements seem to be governed entirely by the food supply. Referring to the causes of these flights, Forbush (1929) suggests:

When there is a heavy crop of beechnuts in northern Maine and the southern Canadian forests, the Pine Grosbeaks sometimes swarm in those regions and few come to Massachusetts, hut a lack of wild fruit, cones and seeds in northern forests might compel these hirds to seek food to the southward.

A dry spring and summer in the north, resulting in a scarcity of wild fruit and seeds, may be the chief cause of the great southward flights, especially if the dearth of food comes the next season after a year of plenty with its consequent increase in the numbers of the birds. A fire sweeping through a great forested region or a great eruption of spruce-destroying insects, such as sometimes occurs, might have a similar effect.

The favorite haunts of the grosbeaks during their winter visits with us are the more open coniferous forests or the hillsides covered with an open growth of red cedars, which furnish shelter as well as food; we can almost always find them in such places when they are with us. But they also resort to deciduous trees and shrubs about our homes, to orchards and to shade trees along the streets of towns and cities, feeding on such fruits and seeds as are available or on the leaf buds. William Brewster (1895) draws the following attractive picture of a flock of pine grosbeaks:

When I first saw theni they were assembling in a large white ash which overhangs the street. This tree was loaded with fruit, and with snow clinging to the fruit-clusters and to every twig. In a few minutes it also supported more than a hundred Grosbeaks who distributed themselves quite evenly over every part from the drooping lower, to the upright upper, branches and began shelling out and swallowing the seeds, the rejected wings of which, floating down in showers, soon gave the surface of the snow beneath the tree a light brownish tinge. The snow clinging to the twigs and branches was also quickly dislodged by the movements of the active, heavy birds and for the first few minutes it was incessantly flashing out in puffs like steam from a dozen different points at once. The finer particles, sifting slowly down, filled the still air and enveloped the entire tree in a veillike mist of incredible delicacy and beauty, tinted, where the sunbeams pierced it, with rose, salmon, and orange, elsewhere of a soft dead white,: truly a fitting drapery for this winter picture,: the hardy Grosbeaks at their morning meal.

Albert E. Allin writes Taber that in the Fort William region of Ontario, where this species winters in great numbers, the relative winter abundance is associated directly with the relative abundance of fruit of the rowan tree, Pyrus aucuparia, which border the streets in quantity. Birds commence to arrive in October or early November, appearing first on the outskirts of the cities, then penetrating within. The pine grosbeak population builds up to a peak around Christmas or early in January, then decreases as the rowan fruit is consumed. A minor upsurge takes place again in late February or early March, but the high count of 200 birds as late as March 2,1941, was unusual.

Range: Mackenzie and Labrador to northern United States.

Breeding range: Breeds from central Mackenzie (Great Bear Lake, Fort Reliance), northern Manitoba (Churchill), northern Ontario (Fort Severn, Fort Albany), northern Quebec (Richmond Gulf, Fort Chimo, George River), and northern Labrador (Okak) south to northern Alberta, central Saskatchewan, central Manitoba, central Ontario (Temagami, occasionally to Sundridge), and central Labrador (upper Hamilton River, Stag Bay).

Winter range: Winters in southern parts of the breeding range, south casually to central Alberta (Edmonton), Nebraska (Neligh), Kentucky (Hickman), Maryland (Assateague Island), Massachusetts (Cambridge), southern Maine (Buckfield, Brewer), and Newfoundland (Pasadena, Bay Bulls).

Casual records: Casual in Kansas (Hays).

Accidental in northern Keewatin (Repulse Bay).

Migration: The data deal with the species as a whole. Late dates of spring departure are: North Carolina: Mt. Olive, April 10. West Virginia: Ona, April 25. Maryland: –Garrett County, March 1. Pennsylvania: State College, May 1. New York: Tompkins County, May 5 (median of 5 years for Cayuga and Oneida Lake basins, April 9). Connecticut: Bloomfield, April 8. Rhode Island: Providence, April 28. Massachusetts: Falmouth, April 17. Vermont: Topsham, April 22. New Hampshire: Dublin, April 21; New Hampton, April 14 (median of 13 years, March 27). Maine: Presque Isle, April 23. New Brusnwick: Fredericton, March 21. Kentucky: Hickman, March 19. Illinois: St. Joseph, April 7; Lake Forest, March 14. Michigan: Detroit, March 2. Ontario: Toronto, April 23. Iowa: Iowa City, April 28. Wisconsin: Baraboo, April 23. Minnesota: Minneapolis, April 12. Kansas: Harper, March 31. North Dakota: Wilton, April 17. Manitoba: Treesbank, March 30. Saskatchewan: Skull Creek, May 15. Alberta: Glenevis, March 30.

Early dates of fall arrival are: Alberta: Clagary, November 26. Saskatchewan: Regina, October 9. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, October 29. Colorado: Denver, November 6. Michigan: Detroit, November 10. Ontario: Gooderham, October 21. Minnesota: Squaw Lake, October 18; Ely, October 27. fllinois: Lake Forest, November 17. Quebec: Quebec City, October 8. New Hampshire: New Hampton, September 30 (median of 13 years, October 14). Connecticut: New Haven, October 31. New Jersey: Morristown, November 7. New York: Cayuga and Oneida Lake basins, October 16 (median of 8 years, November 9). Pennsylvania: Allentown, October 26. Maryland: Monument Knob, Washington County, November 6. Virginia: Greene County, November 16.

Egg dates: Labrador: 5 records, June 11 to June 24.



This is still another of the relatively recently recognized races (described in 1914) from the northeastern corner of the continent. As is true of most other such forms, there are almost no indications that it differs in any essentials of its habits and life history from the subspecies adjoining it to the west and south.

The Newfoundland pine grosbeak is smaller than the Canadian, and the color is a darker gray with the males more scarlet, less rosy. Van Tyne (1934) reported the form from Michigan and Ohio and gives the weight of escMtosus as 52 to 61 grams compared with 70 to 83 grams for leucura.

Peters and Burleigh (1915) tell us that this bird is known locally in Newfoundland as “mope” because of its inactivity and tameness. It occurs in flocks of 5 to 10, or occasionally 20 to 30, most commonly in partly barren areas with clumps of dwarf spruces and larches, or Labrador tea. It is especially fond of the berries of the mountain ash. The nests are placed rather low in conifers and are built of twigs and moss. The clutch consists of three or four eggs.

Range: Breeds from central Quebec (Mistassini Post, Anticosti Island) and Newfoundland south to northern New Hampshire (Connecticut Lakes), central Maine (Somerset County; King and Bartlett lakes), southern New Brunswick (Milltown, Saint John), and Nova Scotia (Neil Harbour, Barrington, Sable River); once in Connecticut (Wilton).

Winter range: Winters south to Wisconsin (Madison), northern Ohio (Fulton County, Painesville), Pennsylvania (Tionesta, Warren, State College), and Virginia (Shenandoah National Park).

Casual record: Accidental in northern Keewatin (Repulse Bay).

Egg dates: New Brunswick: 2 records, June 15 to June 24.

Newfoundland: 3 records, May 26 to June 28.


This race of the widely distributed species breeds in Kamchatka, and has been taken only once in North American territory. J. H. Riley (1917) reported that a specimen in the United States National Museum, transferred there by the Bureau of Fisheries, was “taken on the tundra of St. George Island, Pribiofs, Alaska, Oct., 1915.”

The best condensed description of the subspecies seems to be that of Hartert (1910), which James L. Peters has kindly translated for me as follows:

“The Eastern Siberian Pine Grosbeak differs from the European West Siberian form through noticeably thicker, higher, and shorter bill; also, as a rule, the color is somewhat paler, the red of the male lighter and the underparts perhaps paler gray. The feet appear to be somewhat stronger. Bill 15 mm.”

We seem to have no information on its habits, which probably do not differ materially from those of adjacent races.

Range: The Kamchatka pine grosbeak is resident in Kamchatka. Also recorded in the Komandorskie Islands.

Casual records: Casual in winter south to Japan and the Kurile Islands.

Accidental in Alaska (St. George Island in the Pribiof Islands).


Ridgway (1898) described this northern race as similar to the Canadian pine grosbeak “but decidedly larger, with smaller or shorter bill and paler coloration; both sexes with the gray parts distinctly lighter, more ashy.”

The 1957 Check-List gives it the following range: Breeds, and partly resident, in central Alaska (Cape Prince of Wales, Fairbanks), Yukon (Russell Creek, Carcross), western Mackenzie (Aldavik, Fort Simpson), and northeastern British Columbia (Lower Laird Crossing). Winters south to southeastern Alaska (Chitina, Wrangell), central Oregon (Sisters, Camp Harney, Ironside), and northern North Dakota (Turtle Mountains, Devils Lake).

Nelson (1887) writes of its distribution and habits in northern Alaska: “It is limited by the range of spruce, pine, and cotton-wood forests. Dall found the crops of these Grosbeaks filled with cottonwood buds at Nulato, on the Yukon. During winter, while traveling along the frozen surfaces of the water-courses of the interior, it is common to note a party of these birds busy among the cotton-wood tops uttering their cheerful lisping notes as they move from tree to tree. * * * They rarely paid any attention to us, but kept on their way, and were, ere long, lost to sight in the midst of the bending tree-tops. * * * These birds withstand the severest cold in these forests, even within the Arctic Circle, and appear to be about equally distributed throughout the wooded region.”

Joseph Grinnell (1900a) found this grosbeak “to be a common resident throughout the year in wooded tracts from the delta eastward through the Kowak Valley. * * * In September and October Pine Grosbeaks were quite numerous, being often met with in companies of six to a dozen, immatures and adults together. They were usually among the scattering birch and spruce which line the low ridges. * * * In the severest winter weather they were not often seen in the spruces, but had then retreated into the willow-beds.”

Nesting: Grirmell (1900a) says on this subject: “Not until May 25th did I discover a nest. This was barely commenced, but on June 3rd, when I visited the locality again, the nest was completed and contained four fresh eggs. The female was incubating, and remained on the nest until nearly touched. The nest was eight feet above the ground on the lower horizontal branches of a small spruce growing on the side of a wooded ridge. The nest was a shallow affair, very much like a Tanager’s. It consisted of a loosely-laid platform of slender spruce twigs, on which rested a symmetricallymoulded saucer of fine, dry, round-stemmed grasses. Its depth was about one inch and internal diameter 3.25.”

He found two other similar nests, on June 11 and 12, about 6 feet up in dwarf spruces.

Eggs: Grinnell (1900a) continues: “The eggs are pale Nile blue with a possible greenish tinge, dotted and spotted with pale lavender, drab and sepia. The markings are very unevenly distributed, the small ends of the eggs being nearly immaculate, while there is a conspicuous wreath about the large ends. The markings are not abruptly defined, but the margins of the spots are indistinct, fading out into the surrounding ground-color. One of the eggs is more thickly and evenly sprinkled with various tints of bistre. The eggs are rather ovate in shape, but the small ends are blunt. They measure 1.05 X .71, 1.05 X .72, 1.04 X .74, 1.03. >( .75.”

The measurements of 17 eggs average 26.3 by 18.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure X.8 by 18.3, 26.3 by 19.0, p2.9 by 16.8, and 26.8 by 17.8 millimeters.

Food: Grinnell noted that “until the snow covered the ground, they fed on blueberries, rose-apples and cranberries. During the winter their food was much the same as that of the redpolls: seeds and buds of birch, alder and willow, and sometimes tender spruce needles.”

Range: Alaska to western Canadian border states.

Breeding range: Breeds and is partly resident in central Alaska (Cape Prince of Wales, Fairbanks), Yukon (Russell Creek, Carcross), western Mackenzie (Aldavik, Fort Simpson), and northeastern British Columbia (Lower Liard Crossing).

Winter range: Winters south to southeastern Alaska (Chitina, Wrangell), central Oregon (Sisters, Camp Harney, Ironside), and northern North Dakota (Turtle Mountains, Devils Lake).

Egg dates: Alaska: 5 records, May 26 to June 29.


Ridgway (1901) describes the pine grosbeak of Kodiak Island as follows: “Similar to P. e. eanadensis in length of wing, tail, and tarsus, but with much larger, relatively longer, and more strongly hooked bill; in shape and size of bilis in coloration more like P. e. enueleator, but decidedly larger (except bill), the adult male with the red rather brighter, especially on upper parts, the adult female and immature male usually with much less of yellowish olive on breast and with more of the same color on rump and upper tail coverts.”

Ralph B. Williams, of Juneau, writes to me of its status in southeastern Alaska as follows: “Winter migrant, scarce resident, occasionally nesting in the Hudsonian Zone of the mainland north of Juneau and away from the beaches and inlets. These birds are most often encountered, however, during December and February. The first seen on January 12, 1947, was a small flight of 14 individuals, equally divided as to sex. They were feeding on the fruit of the European mountain ash. This tree was introduced into this section a number of years ago and now has become established as a ‘native’, being found from sea level to above timberline. Its adaption and spread has been made possible by robins, waxwings, and grosbeaks feeding on the fruit throughout the town then repairing to spruce and hemlock stands in the forest surrounding the town to roost. Many seedlings of the European mountain ash can be found near these roosts. High and low bush cranberries also provide food for the grosbeaks while on migration through this area of southeastern Alaska.”

He also comments that the flight is undulatory, wings closed on the dip, and at a distance the birds cannot be distinguished from Bohemian waxwings, which they resemble in flight to a remarkable degree. Perched amid scarlet clusters of ash berries, the birds converse in soft notes. Now and then they utter a loud, mellow two- or three-syllable whistle, which is most frequently heard in flight and appears to prevent the separation of the flock. Occasionally one or two birds will sit on lower branches, a few feet from one’s head, and feed in unconcerned fashion.

In 1948 the birds arrived on November 27. The first flocks were mainly females or immatures. A few days before Christmas the flocks became more conspicuous as the number of males in brilliant plumage increased, with many young males just beginning to show traces of rose-red coloration about their heads and rumps. As time passed and the ash berries were consumed, the grosbeaks turned their attention to devil’s club buds and berries, Echinoanax horridu.~, high-bush cranberries, and the buds of the willows and alders. The flocks departed about Mar. 20, 1949, but on June 11 he observed two brilliant rose-red males and three females feeding on dandelion seeds, among a flock of some 20 to 30 pine siskins.

Joseph C. Howell wrote Williams about a nest he found June 9, 1944, at Middle Bay, 25 miles southeast of Kodiak. The nest was 4 feet up in a small spruce 6% feet high. The nest was loosely built of twigs and lined with light brown rootlets (much like the nest of a mockingbird), and was 6 inches across, 4 inches in depth. The three eggs were a dull greenish blue, lightly splotched with light brown. There were three or four old nests, considered to belong to this species, within 150 feet. The female flushed at 2 feet. Her scold was a not very musical peep, much like the call of a spring peeper. She remained in a willow about 12 feet away. Soon two immatlires (or females) appeared and spent much time chasing each other. One of these latter birds was most often in a willow 18 feet away.

Joseph Grinnell (1909) records that Dixon reported “A scattered company * * * in a patch of windfalls at about 1800 feet altitude” on Chichagof Island near Hooniah, Alaska, on June 25, 1907. Dixon continued, “The snow was just melting and many small plants were coming up in the open spaces that were exposed to the sun. The birds in pairs were feeding on these sprouting plants. The song had a clear, snappy, flycatcher-like accent to it.” Dixon found the Kodiak pine grosbeak fairly common at Coppermine Cove, Glacier Bay, in July, and added: “The males would perch on the very tip of some spruce and indulge in a jerky but clear-cut song. Sometimes they were found feeding in the alders, where we saw them tearing the young alder buds apart, and supposed at first they were eating them; but upon examination we found their crops full of small green worms and it was evidently these the birds were after and not the buds themselves.”

Elsewhere Grinnell (1910) writes: “The crop of a grosbeak taken by Dixon July 19 at La Touche Island contained sprouting weed seeds. The bird was flushed from the ground. A family of adults and young met with near the same place August 5 were also feeding on the ground where they were gathering soft weed seeds. This shows that the species probably resorts regularly to other sources of food than the leaf-buds of trees.”

Range: Coastal southern Alaska to Washington and Idaho.

Breeding range: Breeds in southern Alaska (Kodiak Island, Kenai, Sitka, Dali Island) and northwestern British Columbia (Telegraph Creek, Tetana Lake).

Winter range: Winters from southern Alaska (Juneau, Wrangell) south to Washington (Port Angeles, Dayton), central eastern Oregon, and northwestern Idaho (Cedar Mountains).


Allan Brooks (1922), in naming this race, based on a small series of specimens from the Queen Charlotte Islands, gives it the following subspecific characters: “Smallest and darkest of all the American subspecies; tail much shorter than in the other American races. Red of male deeper and more scarlet (less of carmine); yellow of females and old males darker and suffusing the entire plumage more or less, except the center of belly, lower tail coverts, and under wings and tail.”

This race seems to be confined during the breeding season to the islands for which it is named.

There seems to be no information available on the nesting, food, or other habits of this grosbeak, which probably do not differ materially from those of the other forms of the species.

Range: The Queen Charlotte pine grosbeak is resident on the islands and along the coast of western British Columbia (Queen Charlotte Islands, Porcher Island, Rivers Inlet, Vancouver Island).

Casual records: Casual inland in southern British Columbia (Lillooet).


Contributed by WENDELL TABER

Robert Ridgway (1898) described this race as being similar to P. e. calijor-nica but decidedly larger and slightly darker, the adult male with the red of a darker, more carmine, hue. The 1957 A.O.U. CheckList gives its breeding range as central interior British Columbia and southwestern Alberta south through the northern Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains to central and southeastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, south-central Utah, central eastern Arizona, and central northern New Mexico. The race winters from southern British Columbia and southern Alberta south to southeastern Oregon, southwestern New Mexico, northwestern Texas, and western Nebraska.

Except for slight variations arising out of a habitat involving a more western type of flora, the life history of this race differs doubtfully from that of the other races. I. N. Gabrielson and S. G. Jewett (1940) state that the habits and behavior of this race are quite similar to those of P. e. ala.scer&sis and that it is impossible to separate the two in the field. W. L. Dawson (1909) says that the pine grosbeaks breeding on the higher mountain ranges in British Columbia occupy a zone from timber line downward about 2,000 feet, and that the birds favor hemlock and balsam timber. He found the race (which he treated as ala8Cefl8i~) in the Cascade Mountains due north of Mount Baker on both sides of the 49th parallel, breeding close to timber line. Young were being fed on July 17. He failed to note any red males, although many gray males were singing in the early norning from the topmost spray of balsams. Alden H. Miller (1940) noted a young bird that had nearly finished its post juvenal molt on September 7,1939.

Habits: Norman R. French (1954) studied this race at an elevation of 10,000 feet in the Uinta Mountains in northeast Utah be-. tween June 10 and July 30, 1953. The Engelmann spruce, Picea engdmairni, and the alpine fir, Abies lasiocarpa, were the two dominant trees. Cares prevailed in a wet meadow. The snow had a uniform depth of at least 3 feet, with drifts of many times that depth, on June 10. On June 11 French observed an adult pair of these birds feeding amid debris from the spruces scattered on the snow, in company with at least a dozen red crossbills, two pine siskins, a gray-headed junco, and a male black rosy finch. The adult pine grosbeaks ate principally seeds of the spruces. One bird had its esophagus filled with tender new growth from the tips of spruce boughs. Other food included seeds of Silene acaulis, the ovaries of glacier lilies, Erythro’nium grandiftortsm, and insects. One female fed steadily in flycatcher fashion, taking insects on the wing. The male acted similarly once.

Nesting: A nest he located July 4 was near the end of a sloping Engelmaun spruce limb and contained two young birds. These were last seen in the nest on July 14. The nesting territory had a diameter of about 1,200 feet. The adults tolerated strange pine grosbeaks on two occasions, but this happened late in the nesting period. Grayheaded juncos nested at the base of the same tree. The parent pine grosbeaks united to drive off Canada jays; the male grosbeak drove off a red squirrel.

In feeding the young, both parent birds approached the nest at the same time with their throats noticeably distended by the filled gularsacs. Whichever sex arrived first at the nest, the other perched opposite. Either sex might choose either side. Generally, but not always, the first parent to arrive fed the young first. At times it removed a fecal sac from the nest and then usually waited at the nest or on a perch nearby for its mate. Except for three occasions when the female remained to brood, the parents departed together. Frequently, this departure involved a chasing ceremony with one bird diving at its perched mate, forcing it to fly, and chasing it across the meadow. Either sex might be the chaser.

The measurements of 12 eggs average 24.9 by 17.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure p6.3 by 17.9, p3.3 by 17.3, and 25.4 by 16.9 millimeters.

Range: Boreal summits of Rocky Mountains from Alberta to New Mexico.

Breeding range: Breeds from interior British Columbia (Puntchesakut Lake, Mount Revelstoke) and southwestern Alberta (Jasper House, Banif) south through the northern Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains to central and southeastern Washington (Mount Rainier), northeastern Oregon (Wallowa Mountains), south central Utah (Cedar Breaks), central eastern Arizona (White Mountains), and central northern New Mexico (Truchas Peak).

Winter range: Winters from southern British Columbia (Point-nopoint, Alta Lake, Okanagan Landing), and southern Alberta (Red Deer) south to southeastern Oregon (Crane), southwestern New Mexico (Kingston), northwestern Texas (Pampa), and western Nebraska.


This high Sierran form was described by William W. Price (1897) as follows: “It differs from P. e. canadensis in the much larger, more hooked and less turgid bill, and in the almost entire absence of dark centers to the feathers on the back and scapulars.”

He says of its haunts: “This apparently very distinct Pinicola is an inhabitant of the higher Sierra Nevada Mountains of Central California. It is strictly an alpine species; I have never seen it below 7000 feet and I have taken it near timber-line. It is peculiar to the belt of tamarack pine (Pinus murrayana) and the beautiful red alpine fir (Abies magnifica), and most of the specimens taken were from the latter tree. According to my observations this bird is uncommon, for, during several vacations spent in the high Sierra, I have met with it only on rare occasions.~~ Milton S. Ray (1912) has published an interesting paper, describing the summer haunts of this grosbeak and the difficulties encountered by him and his party in their search for its nest, in which they were finally successful. The paper is well illustrated with 16 photographs, showing the ruggedness of the snow-covered heights. The story is far too long to be repeated here, but it is well worth reading, as illustrating the scarcity of the bird and its erratic habits.

Nesting: After much hard work, extending over several seasons in the same general region, Ray and his companions at last succeeded in finding two nests and collecting two sets of eggs of the elusive California pine grosbeak. Of the first nest, he says: “Measurement showed the nest to be sixteen feet above the ground, four feet from the trunk and twenty-one inches from the tip of the branch. The red fir in which it was placed was on a sloping mountain side where the rather scattered timber rose among huge boulders, fallen trees and fast melting banks of snow. * *

“The nest was simply a rough platform of twigs, principally fir, and was thickly lined with very fine light-colored grasses. So thick is this grass lining that eggs in the nest were not visible from below. The twig platform measures 6 X 8 inches, the grass nest cavity, 5 by 4X by 1Y4 inches deep.”

He describes the finding of the second nest as follows: “The female was seen to fly to a nearby tree where she began hopping from branch to branch until a height of about 25 feet had been attained whereupon she flew to, and disappeared in, the thick foliage of a hemlock bough. Advancing nearer, Littlejohn could just discern the tail of the bird projecting over what might be a nest and which on my climbing the tree proved so to be. Being situated eight feet out near the end of the limb, and in a thick patch of foliage, it could not be seen from above except by spreading the branches apart. On doing this and after the sitting bird had been urged off with a long stick the nest was seen to contain three eggs.” The nest was similar to the first one.

Both of these nests were found in the vicinity of Pyramid Peak, Eldorado County, Calif., at elevations between 6,500 and 8,000 feet, and were under observation for several days between June 15 and 19, 1912.

Richard Hunt (1921) found a nest of this grosbeak in Plumas County, Calif., on July 12, 1921, containing three young almost ready to fly. It was 20 feet up in a lodgepole pine and was much like those described above.

“The nest was placed on a horizontal forked branch about 3 inches from the main trunk (at this height l~ inches in diameter), and supported laterally by branches growing level with the rim. It was not attached to its support, but was fairly well crammed between the supporting branches and was reasonably firm. The eggs could be seen through the bottom.”

Eggs: Ray (1912) illustrates his two sets of eggs of the California pine grosbeak and describes them as follows, using the color names in Ridgway’s Nomenclature of Colors, 1886: “The ground color of the eggs approaches closely to Nile Blue (no. 17, Plate IX), but is slightly deeper and more rich in shade. The surface markings are spots and blotches, chiefly around the larger end, and in the form of a rough wreath, of black and of a rich deep brown called Vandyke (no. 5, Plate III). There are underlying scattered spots of Wood Brown (no. 19, Plate III), and splashy shell markings of Olive Gray (no. 14, Plate II). The eggs are ovate in shape and measure as they lie in the picture 1.02 X .69, 1.02 )K .67, and .98 X .71.” The eggs in the second set measure in inches 1.02 by .68, 1.00 by .68, and 1.06 by .68.

The measurements of 40 eggs average 26.1 by 17.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure ~d8.8 by 17.4, 25.1 by 18.6, p24.4 by 17.5, and 24.7 by 16.8 millimeters.

Voice: Ray (1912) writes:

The song of the California Pine Grosbeak does not, I think, bear so much resemblance to that of Ccrpodacu8 cassini (which Price has compared it with) as it does to that of the Black-beaded Grosbeak. However, as it is so much more varied, melodious and rich than that of the Black-headed Grosbeak, the comparison merely serves to give a general idea of its style. The song consists of a series of trills, warblings and mellow, flute-like notes that must be heard to be appreciated. The bird as a songater ranks easily with the best of the Sierran vocalists like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Water Ouzel and Sierra Hermit Thrush. Unlike the Western Robin which, perched on some tree top, will sing through almost the entire day, the Pine Grosbeak is not a persistent singer and only on rare occasions have I been given the opportunity of hearing its song.

Winter: Not until the winter storms come and swirling clouds of snow cover much of their favorite feeding grounds are these hardy birds forced to move downward to the lower levels in the mountains in search of food. There they find shelter in the dense thickets of mountain alders and abundant food in the berries of the western mountain ash.

Range: The California pine grosbeak is resident in the Sierra Nevada of central eastern California (10 miles south of Blairsden, Dinkey Lake in Fresno County). Recorded in summer in western Nevada (Carson Range).

Egg dates: California: 11 records, June 4 to June 30.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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