At a Glance
This chunky, big-billed finch wanders widely in winter, descending on bird feeders in colorful, noisy flocks, to thrill feeder-watchers and to consume prodigious amounts of sunflower seeds. Originally a western bird, almost unknown east of the Great Lakes before the 1890s, it now breeds commonly east to New England and the Maritime Provinces. Its eastward spread may have been helped by both the planting of box elders (a favorite food tree) across northern prairies, and the abundance of bird feeders in the Northeast.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Finches, Perching Birds
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Winter range in East very irregular, large numbers moving far south in some winters, little apparent movement in others. Such invasions have become smaller and less frequent in recent years. In the West, occasionally invades lowlands from nesting areas in mountains.
8" (20 cm). Gray and gold, with big white patch in black wings. Big pale bill turns greenish in spring. Male has yellow eyebrow on dark head. Goldfinches have much smaller bills.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
Song a series of short, musical whistles. Call note similar to the chirp of the House Sparrow but louder and more ringing.
Conifer forests; in winter, box elders and other maples, also fruiting shrubs. Breeds in coniferous and mixed forests; often associated with spruce and fir in northern forest, with pines in western mountains. In migration and winter, may be equally common in deciduous groves in woodlands and semi-open country.
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3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale blue to blue-green, blotched with brown, gray, purple. Incubation is by female only, about 11-14 days. Male may feed female during incubation.
Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.
Forages mostly in trees and shrubs, sometimes on ground. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.
Mostly seeds, some berries and insects. Seeds make up majority of diet, especially seeds of box elder, ash, maple, locust, and other trees. Also feeds on buds of deciduous trees, berries, small fruits, weed seeds. Will feed on oozing maple sap. Eats some insects in summer. At bird feeders, very fond of sunflower seeds. Will eat fine gravel for minerals and salts. Huge bill allows it to crack large seeds with ease.
In courtship, male "dances" with head and tail raised, wings drooped and vibrating, as he swivels back and forth. Male frequently feeds female. In another courtship display, both members of a pair may bow alternately. Nest: Usual site is on horizontal branch (often well out from trunk) or in vertical fork of tree. Height varies, usually 20-60' above ground, can be 10-100' up. Nest (built by female) is a rather loosely made cup of twigs, lined with fine grass, moss, rootlets, pine needles.
Extended its breeding range eastward during the late 19th century and early 20th century. In recent decades, eastern population has declined again, but reasons are poorly understood.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Evening Grosbeak. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Evening Grosbeak
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.