Red Deer River Naturalists

The Red Deer river Naturalists are a group dedicated to learning about and preserving natural history. They have regular programs with speakers and many field trips.


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Friday, November 25, 2011

Pine Grosbeaks Make an Appearance

   One of the first birds that I learned how to identify was a Pine Grosbeak. Every weekend I would go out and photograph birds. I'd come into the Kerry Wood Nature Centre with my photographs and get a birder who volunteered there to identify the birds in my pictures for me. He was very patient with me. One week he'd tell me that this was a Pine Grosbeak. The next weekend, I'd hear, "It's a Pine Grosbeak, Judy." The following week, with a bit of a hitch in his voice, "Don't you remember, Judy? This is a Pine Grosbeak." I got it after that. That is, until I saw a female. She had yellow on her, not the red of a male. Boy, how to confuse a novice birder. It just wasn't fair. But with a lot of perseverance, I now know a Pine Grosbeak when I see one. They are a robin-sized bird with a notched tail. The males have pinkish-red head, breast, back and rump with dark wings that have 2 white wing bars. The female have a yellowish olive head and rump.

      When I first started birding in the 90's, the Pine Grosbeaks were everywhere, and then they seemed to...just not be there anymore. Oh, I'd see a few here and there but nothing like what I used to see; however, they seem to be back right now. I keep finding Pine Grosbeaks all over the place.

     I've done a bit of research. All of the books tell me that Pine Grosbeaks are very secretive when they are nesting and are very hard to find during this time, but in the winter time, they tend to flock together to feed. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta says, "It [Pine Grosbeaks] wanders irregularly and erratically during winter, but is commonly observed in central and southern parts of the province," and also says that they can be seen in towns and cities during migration and in winter at fruit/berry trees, like Mountain Ash. This is exactly where I've been seeing them lately.

     I also looked at all the past records from the Christmas Bird Counts. Starting in 1986, there were three years of low numbers of these birds (28-71), followed by three years of higher numbers (219-418). Then came two more years of low numbers (69-85), followed by 5 years of higher numbers (183-572). And it goes on like that, so erratic is definitely the word for it. My view on this is that they are taking advantage of food sources. It would appear that they are around when there is food and elsewhere when the food isn't here. Makes sense, doesn't it?

    While researching these birds, I found out something really neat about them. Both the males and females feed their young. In order to do this, they develop sacs in their mouths so they can carry more food back to the nests. It never ceases to amaze me what birds can come up with to cope with the trials and tribulations of their lives.

    When you're out and about in the next little while, make sure you keep your eyes open for these and other beautiful birds. Happy birding.

 Author Judy Boyd

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