• Robert DeCandido PhD

EVENING GROSBEAK: Extraordinary Finch from the Far North

Updated: Nov 12

Male Evening Grosbeak, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, 28 January 2016

Deborah Allen

4 November 2020

Bird Notes: OWL WALK at 4:30pm on both Thursday, 5 November and again on Sunday 8 November. We are after the pair of Barred Owls at the north end of Central Park. See the SCHEDULE Page on this web site for all details. Both walks meet at 106th street and 5th Avenue - We'll do our best to bring this pair of Barred Owls to a perch in the open for great photo ops.

In the previous two issues of this Newsletter, we profiled an irruptive bird, the Pine Siskin, that is now in our area in great number after an absence of several years. This week we begin profiling another irruptive finch from the boreal forest: the Evening Grosbeak. Many flocks of these birds are just to our north, and small numbers have been seen on Long Island, Staten Island and nearby New Jersey. We expect them any day now - to feed in Central Park while on migration on crabapples, and especially the ripening pods of Sweetgum (Styraciflua liquidamber) trees.

Field Sparrow, Central Park (Turtle Pond), 1 November 2020 by Deborah Allen

In this week's Historical Notes we present 1866-1916 information/observations about the Evening Grosbeak in northeastern north America and Canada. It was the winter of 1890 when Evening Grosbeaks were first discovered to "irrupt" (head south in great number, just like the Pine Siskin is doing this autumn). We provide a number of anecdotal observations from January-May 1890 about these birds in northeastern North America. You may want to skim some of the material - some of the articles just provide numbers of birds collected and date shot - because in 1890, ornithologists were trying to determine just how far these birds traveled; other scientists were beginning to ask why they came south in large numbers every several years: was it food or climate (cold winter)? What other birds (eg., Snowy Owls) also came south in Evening Grosbeak irruption years?

Tucked into the "drier" observations of Evening Grosbeaks below, are some interesting ones. For example, The Evening Grosbeak in New York City [1917] details their appearance at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx; and a note by J. W. GEE, M.D. (of Van Ettenville, N.Y) in 1890 of collecting one while making a house call to an ill patient.

Pine Siskin, on Bob's speaker in Central Park, 31 October 2020 by Deborah Allen

Pine Siskin (close-up), on Bob's speaker in Central Park, 31 October 2020 by Deborah Allen

[below] Ruby-crowned Kinglet (male), Central Park, 31 October 2020 by Deborah Allen

Bird Walks for Early November

All Walks @ $10/person - All walks in Central Park

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here

1. OWL WALK - Thursday 5 November at 4:30pm - meet at 106th street and 5th Ave for BARRED OWLS (yes plural). $10. See SCHEDULE page of this web site for details!

2. Friday, 6 November at 8:30am - Conservatory Garden at 105th street and 5th Avenue. Walk down the front (main) steps and straight ahead by 150 feet to the area between the men's room (on the right/north) and ladies' room (left/south) $10

3. Saturday, 7 November at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10

4. Sunday, 8 November at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10 - Standard Time begins as Daylight Savings Time ends

5. OWL WALK - Sunday 8 November at 4:30pm - meet at 106th street and 5th Ave for BARRED OWLS (yes plural). $10. See SCHEDULE page of this web site for details!

6. Monday, 9 November at 8:30am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) at 72nd St. and Central Park West $10

If you do the 7:30am walk you can do the second (9:30am walk) for free. You get two for one. Weekend walks will continue through August and into December. Monday walks at 8:30am begin on Labor Day, 7 September and will continue through the end of October. Friday morning walks start 25 September and through October at least. What are you waiting for?

Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions: rdcny@earthlink.net

Tufted Titmouse; Central Park on 1 November 2020 by Deborah Allen

The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 7:30/9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive). Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time! Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden; Mondays at Strawberry Fields - check the "Meeting Points" page of this web site for exact meeting location.

Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is (rdcny@earthlink.net). If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) near the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total) - though the Boathouse is closed right now and will re-open in April 2021 according to the owners. Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we aim to please.

Common Loon (juvenile) at the Reservoir in Central Park on 1 November 2020 by D. Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Friday, 30 October 2020 (Conservatory Garden at 8:30am): was a total wash-out. It rained (well misted) most of Friday morning...

Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 30 October: No Bird Walk - RAIN today!

Sat-Sunday, 31 Oct. to 1 Nov October (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am): Please note: the bathrooms at the Boathouse are NOT open. However, we do pass two other sets of bathrooms on the walk. Saturday, 31 October: Of the two weekend days, Saturday was easily the better of the two. It followed several days of fog, drizzle and overcast skies - and birds were on the mover overnite, landing in our parks. We had the first day with more Golden-crowned Kinglets than Ruby-crowns. But more than that, it seemed wherever we ventured, we found birds - and good photo ops. These included Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, a flyover Red-shouldered Hawk...and even four warbler species. On 1 November (Sunday) birding was much slower. We had no trouble finding Hermit Thrushes everywhere, but only occasional kinglets and flocks of Pine Siskins. The best bird of the day was the last one: a Field Sparrow at the Dock on Turtle Pond.

Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 31 October: https://tinyurl.com/yxgva8rc

Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 1 November: https://tinyurl.com/y3qckbxx

Monday, 2 November (Conservatory Garden at 8:30am): WIND! What a morning - WIND! I'll never forget today as we set a modern day record of seeing a flock of ten Eastern Meadowlarks on the Great Lawn...the highest number seen at one time in Central Park since...well probably since Meadowlarks nested in all of NYC boroughs (until the early 1930s). Also on the Great Lawn that morning came an American Pipit - a very rare passage migrant. We all got a good look at it (from a distance) until a Cooper's Hawk passed nearby and the Pipit resumed its migration. Other highlights today included an American Woodcock before the walk; a nice adult White-crowned Sparrow (Strawberry Fields) and a few other nice ones including Pine Siskins and a male Purple Finch.

Deborah's List of Birds for Monday, 2 November: https://tinyurl.com/y3h8pf5v

Black-capped Chickadee, Central Park on 1 November 2020 by Deborah Allen



Evening Grosbeak - Historical Info (1866-1917)

EVENING GROSBEAKS IN NEW YORK STATE [1860-1890]. IN the last issue of this newspaper, Mr. William Brewster has an interesting account of the occurrence of the evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vesperitina) in eastern New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in which he records the capture of a number of specimens at various

Male Evening Grosbeak, Algonquin Park, Canada, 28 January 2016; Deborah Allen

places throughout that section of the country. Thus the first introduction of the species to the fauna of New England is on positive record, and not on unsatisfactory or questionable data. In this particular, New York is not so fortunate, for not until very recently has the evening grosbeak an undeniable claim to a position among the birds of the State, although it has been enrolled as one of them for nearly twenty-five years. The writer has no knowledge of the existence of any New York State specimens which were captured prior to December, 1889, so it will be well before dwelling on these late captures to review briefly the status of the earlier ones.

In 1866 Mr. Lawrence mentions the evening grosbeak, but as no locality is given the citation may refer to New Jersey, as the birds of a portion of that State are included in the list.

The next record is by Dr. Brewer of a specimen seen at Elizabethtown, Essex county [NJ], by Rev. Dr. Cutting, in the winter of 1875. This record is very unsatisfactory, for the gentleman who observed the bird was presumably not an ornithologist, and hence mistaken in his identification.

In 1882 Dr. Coues records a specimen which was seen near Marcellus, Onondaga county, on July 8 of that year, by a gentleman while fly-fishing. It is safe to consider that this was a case of misidentification, as the time of year renders the bird's occurrence as highly improbable. The late Chas. Lenden mentions the capture of two specimens by a boy at Brant, Erie county, on April, 15, 1881. He identified the birds from portions of one of the specimens, so there can be no doubt as to the accuracy of this record.

Mr. Edward Swift records the capture of a specimen at Elmira, Chemung county, on Nov. 25, 1887. The specimen was mounted, but destroyed by a cat the following day.

This completes the published records for the State as far as known to be written, and taken as a whole they are very unsatisfactory. It is pleasure, therefore, that the writer is enabled to record the occurrence or capture of evening grosbeaks in various parts of the State during the present winter. On Jan. 8 the writer was surprised by receiving six specimens of evening grosbeaks from Lake George, Warren county, the gift of his friends, Messrs. Foster and Roy Lockhart. A letter from the former gentleman gave an account of their capture. Quite early on the morning of Jan. 6 [1890], nine individuals were seen on some maple trees in company with pine grosbeaks. Unfortunately, at the first discharge of the gun no specimens were secured, but they were decoyed back by imitating their shrill call and three secured. After this they would not allow themselves to be approached, and finally disappeared. About noon of the same day four individuals were seen high in air flying south, but a few well-applied calls stopped their course

and brought them clown to the treetops, from where they were soon secured. One, a fine male, having its wing only slightly injured, was placed in a cage, where he soon recovered, making an attractive and interesting pet. Although the young men kept a sharp lookout no more specimens were seen until Jan. 23, when one female was secured, and on the 25th another captured. On Jan. 30 a flock of about a dozen was seen, but departed before any could be secured. The following day the caged specimen, acting as a call bird, brought a flock about the house, from which three females and one male was secured. By the actions of their pet the young men can tell in a moment when other birds are around.

In a recent letter Mr. Lockhart mentions the occurrence of a flock of grosbeaks at Bolton Landing, Warren county, Jan. 24. Lake George is the most eastern locality in the State from which records have been received. From the western and southern portions of the State come a considerable number.

Mr. J. L. Davison, of Lockport, Niagara county, informs me that a flock of seven evening grosbeaks were seen in the city Dec. 14 and 15, 1889, but none were secured.

Mr. Geo. F. Guelf, of Brockport, Monroe county, secured pair Dec. 30, 1889, and reports as seen another pair in company with five grosbeaks on the following day. On Jan. 29. 1890, another specimen, a female, was brought to him.

Dr. W. H. Bergtold, of Buffalo, reports that nine were seen on Jan. 10, 1890, and on the following day a male and two females were captured.

Mr. Louis A. Fuertes, of Ithaca, Tompkins county, secured a male and two females on Jan. 21, 1890, the only ones seen.

Mr. A. H. Wood, of Painted Post, Steuben county, writes that he secured three evening grosbeaks, the first on Jan. 23, and the other two on Feb. 1, 1890.

Mr. G. S. Miller, Jr., writes that he received from Oswego, Oswego county, four fine specimens shot from a flock of about ten birds, on Jan. 28.

Mr. J. Alden Loring, of Owego, Tioga county, writes that a specimen was shot from a flock of about twenty, which were feeding among the maple trees. On Feb. 1 he saw three others, males.

The above records are all that have come to the notice of the writer, but doubtless many others will soon appear from various parts of the State.

A. K. FISHER. WASHINGTON, D.C., 8 Feb. 1890.

Female Evening Grosbeak, Algonquin Park, Canada, 28 January 2016; Deborah Allen


The evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vesperitina) has at length won a place in the fauna of New England by appearing during January, 1890, at several different localities in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. As far as I am able to learn it was seen first at Milford, New Hampshire, where Mr. James P. Melzer shot a female on January 6 [1890]. This specimen, Mr. Melzer writes me, was apparently a solitary bird. It alighted on a tree in the village and attracted his attention by its peculiar notes. It seemed alert and restless, but he succeeded in shooting it before it could again take wing. Three days later a young man brought in another which he said was one of a flock of eight or ten that he had seen near the town. Mr. Melzer was too busy at the time to go in pursuit of them, but the young man went back and secured three more. Of the four taken this day one was an adult male and one a female. The sex of the other two could not be determined by dissection, but they are apparently females. These birds were feeding in maples and the "crop" of those killed were ''filled with the soft inner portions of the maple buds.” Milford is in Hillsborough county, eleven miles northwest of Nashua.

On Jan. 9 [1890] – the very day, it will be observed, when these grosbeaks were last seen at Milford - a male was shot at Seabrook, Rockingham county, N. H. I heard of this specimen through Dr. A. K. Fisher, who wrote me that it was in the possession of Mr. Alvah A. Eaton, of Seabrook. The latter, in reply to a letter from me asking about his bird, at once sent me the skin, very generously insisting that I accept it as a gift for my collection. In addition, he was kind enough to furnish the following account of its capture: It was shot by a Mr. Brooks, who found it alone in an apple orchard about half a mile from a large salt marsh, but only a few hundred yards from an arm or cove of this marsh. The locality is within a mile of the Massachusetts line, and hence in the extreme southeastern corner of Seabrook. Mr. Eaton skinned and dissected the bird. Its stomach contained nothing but cherry stones, all of which were broken into fragments. As there were no wild cherries in the region about Seabrook last summer, Mr. Eaton thinks that these stones may have been those of cherries from trees cultivated in a garden near the apple orchard where the grosbeak was killed. The bird was badly torn by the shot, "which must have been of large size," and as the skin was very tender also, the specimen is not so good as could be

wished; but it is in remarkably fine, richly-colored plumage. I cannot see that it differs in any important respect from several of the western males in my collection. Mr. Eaton tells me that it measured "a trifle over 8in. in length."

The next point at which our interesting bird has been reported to me is Wellesley, Norfolk county, Massachusetts, where, on the well-known Hunnewell place, near the outskirts of the village, a specimen was shot Jan. 15 by Mr. Thomas Smith, a gardener in Mr. Hunnewell's service. Having a bent for natural history, Mr. Smith has made a small but interesting collection of such mammals, birds and insects as he has found time to capture and preserve. He shot the grosbeak in a maple, where it was sitting, apparently alone, uttering at intervals a call which resembles that of the pine grosbeak. By the aid of a copy of "Wilson's Ornithology'' he identified it correctly and mounted it. I am indebted to Mr, S. W. Denton for these facts, as well as for the specimen itself, which he obtained for me from Mr. Smith. Although the sex was not determined, the bird is evidently a female. It differs from all the western females in my collection in having the top and sides of the head deep, nearly pure ashy, instead of olivaceous brown. It is further peculiar in almost wholly lacking the usual blackish stripes on the sides of the throat.

The last capture of which I have any present knowledge is that of a female, taken Jan. 25, at Lynn, Essex county, Massachusetts. It was killed by a young man who shoots for Mr. N. Vickary, the well-known taxidermist, who says it was accompanied by another bird of apparently the same species and sex, which, at the report of the gun, rose high in air and made off, uttering as it flew a loud whistling call and occasionally a chattering cry also. When first seen they were sitting close together in the top of a red cedar, feeding on the berries. The gullet of the one killed proved to be full of the berries of this cedar. Mr. Vickary mounted the specimen, which will probably go to the Peabody Academy at Salem for the Essex county collection. I have examined this bird and find that it differs from my Wellesley specimen only in having the head of a slightly browner shade and the dark spots on the sides of the throat a little more distinct.

The evening grosbeak has occurred in New York, in Onondaga county (1882) near New York city (1866) and at Elizabethtown, Essex county (1875), only ten miles west of Lake Champlain. Although several writers have confidently predicted its appearance in New England, the birds just mentioned are the first that have ever been reported. The fact that so many have been seen within less than three weeks and at places some distance apart makes it highly probable that they have crossed our borders in considerable numbers, and it will be surprising if more are not found before the winter is over. It would be interesting to know if the recent heavy snowfalls in the Northwest have anything to do with their coming.


male Evening Grosbeak at a bird feeder in Michigan by Doug Leffler

EVENING GROSBEAK IN CENTRAL ONTARIO [1890]. The unlooked for appearance of the evening grosbeak in considerable numbers in the vicinity of Kingston, Ontario, has created quite an excitement among the local lovers of bird life. It was some time before they could be identified, as they have never been seen so far east as this before. It is supposed they were driven here by some of the heavy gales we have had this winter. They are met with feeding on the berries of the red cedar and seeds of the black ash. We have also with us this winter the pine grosbeak, white-winged crossbill and pine finch [Pine Siskin], all of which are irregular winter visitors in this locality. The great gray owl and snowy owl are also more common than have been known for a number of years. The winter so far has been very mild.

JOHN EWART of Yarker, Ontario, 17 January 1890 [The occurrence of this species in Ontario, though unusual, is not without precedent.]


The Evening Grosbeak in New York City [1917] Walking along the path by the upper lake near the Botanical Garden Museum, on the morning of Nov. 23, of this year (1917), I passed almost under three male Evening Grosbeaks. They were feeding in an Ironwood tree on which a few old seeds still remained, and allowed me to pass not more than four or five paces away. While looking at and admiring the birds, which I had been acquainted with for many years in the West, the Assistant Director, Dr. Murrill, came by and I called his attention to them. He at once pronounced the birds to be similar to eight he had seen a week earlier in the Garden at no great distance from this point, and feeding on the same species of tree. This is the earliest date, I believe, recorded for their far eastern range, and I can find only four other birds mentioned in the past as having been seen within the city limits. Up to the time of writing this note, Dec. 25, I have seen or heard nothing more of these strikingly showy visitors.

R. S. Williams, Administrator Assistant, New York Botanical Garden.

male Evening Grosbeak, Algonquin Park, Canada, 28 January 2016; Deborah Allen

EVENING GROSBEAK IN PENNSYLVANIA [1890] Montoursville PA., May 1 [1890].

Early in last January a friend described to me a flock of strange birds he had seen the day before. From the imperfect description given I concluded they were snow buntings and so paid no further attention to the matter. A few weeks later he killed three of them, and then I saw at once they were unlike any bird I had ever seen here. Upon investigation I found them to be evening grosbeaks. They have never before been recorded as appearing east of Ohio, and but seldom east of Lake Superior, but as is well known a number of specimens have been taken in this State and in New York during the past winter. The birds numbering about forty, have kept together in a single flock all through their stay. Their food seems to consist entirely of wild cherry pits. They readily crack the stones with their stout bills, and a flock feeding on these makes a noise resembling a miniature Fourth of July celebration. The male has a loud, clear and beautiful song, while both birds have a peculiar piping whistle, which is apparently used as a call note, and is kept up constantly. Two or three weeks ago the birds became quite uneasy, keeping well to the tops of the trees and ranging for miles up and down the river; but they finally returned to their old haunts, and now seem to have lost in a measure their tribal organization, and to-day, April 30, they are to be found in all parts of the grove, making love to each other in much the same manner as turtle doves, seemingly well contented with what I believe will prove to be their summer home. F.F. CASTLEBURY.


[1890] The appearance of the Evening Grosbeak in the Eastern States prompts me to make a few remarks on some other birds which I have observed for the past ten years. A notice of the taking of the evening grosbeak has been sent to this Newspaper by your old correspondent, Dr. E. Sterling. I may say in addition that when I killed one of the birds the others would follow their wounded comrade to the ground. I have also heard of a great many more being taken along the Lake Erie shore. They have migrated to our northern borders in large numbers, but in scattering flocks. They are seen only in orchards and dooryards, where the red cedar abounds. I took a specimen of the pine grosbeak (Pinicola eriucleator) Feb. 15. It was perched upon a larch tree near the house. This is the second occurrence - in this vicinity since 1860, when it was recorded by Dr. J.P. Kirtland. I notice that the tufted titmouse (L. bicolor) is exceedingly abundant this winter, more so than I have ever seen it before. They are very restless little fellows, continually

darting from tree to tree, picking at everything they see uttering at intervals a loud whistle, "peto!'' which can be heard a long distance. They breed here. I have always seen them while woodcock shooting in July in the dark woods, where the elm, black ash and hickory raise their great branches to the sky, almost hiding the sun from the earth.

Dec. 4, 1878, I shot seven white-wing crossbills (Loria leucophera). I saw them feeding upon weeds, and they were so tame that I could almost take them with the hand. After shooting at them, they would fly to a tree or a weed nearby and continue their search for seeds as if nothing had happened. This allowed me to kill them all without once moving from my tracks. I have remarked this same tameness in nearly all rare birds that I have seen. This species is reported as being quite numerous in the vicinity of Cincinnati, O., in the winter of 1868-9.

A man recently brought me a barn owl (Strix flammea var. americana), which be shot on the lake shore near Rocky River, in the summer of '87. This is the first recorded occurrence of this species in northern Ohio.


female Evening Grosbeak at a bird feeder in Michigan by Doug Leffler


While visiting a patient one mile from the village on Feb. 14 [1890], my attention was called to the piping note of a strange bird by a lady patient, with the request that I do something to keep it still, as it had annoyed her all the morning. On leaving the house I heard the sharp, shrill note repeated at intervals of about one minute and saw a stranger sitting in a maple tree. After some delay I secured a gun and shot the bird. Great was my surprise when I picked it up to find I had secured a fine female evening grosbeak. The bird was evidently alone, as the lady who called my attention to it informed me that she had heard the bird since daylight and it had been constantly piping its single note, until I came to the rescue about 11 A.M. A careful search failed to detect the presence of any other birds. I mounted the specimen and it will hold a conspicuous place in my cabinet. This is the second instance of the capture of this bird in Chemung county, as far as I know, the other one having been reported by Edward Swift, of Elmira, in December 1887.

J. W. GEE, M.D. Van Ettenville, N.Y., Feb. 15 [1890]



The evening grosbeak, which has attracted so much attention of late, made his first visit here this season Dec. 15, a second flock Jan. 15 and another flock of six Jan. 23; in fact I have seen them almost continually since their arrival until the present, my boy having seen them today feeding upon the red cedar berries as usual. I have preserved in all twelve fine specimens, males, females and young. I dissected all of them carefully and found their stomachs to contain only the berries of the red cedar. I also noticed that the flesh smelled very strong of the same. Generally these birds were very, tame, allowing me to approach within a few feet without causing any alarm, and then again, at first sight they would all leave the tree in a body, uttering a rather loud whistle, flying high in the air, to return again in the course of a half hour. They seem to be a very restless birds.

I do not think the heavy snow in the West (as reported) has anything to do with their migration here, as you know they have very heavy snows there every year. This is, I believe, the second appearance of this species here in Ohio since 1860, when Dr. Kirtland took several specimens.



Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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Pine Siskin attracted to the calls from my speaker. Photo by Jonathan Appell

Central Park on 31 October 2020

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