Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.
The sightings of Evening Grosbeaks keep pouring in.
I mentioned these handsome finches in my last column, but now that I keep hearing from readers who see them, their story bears elaboration.
First, let me mention a few of the sightings that came in this week. Pam, who lives near Jaffrey, had a flock of Evening Grosbeaks visiting her feeder for three days in a row.
“We almost never see them here so I was surprised,” she wrote.
Pam also attached a great photo of her visitors.
I particularly appreciated getting the photo as I could use it to accompany this column. I don’t have any photos of Evening Grosbeaks because I rarely see them as well. I take that back, I do have one photo that I took in Pittsburgh, N.H., about 20 years ago. It was a one-legged male Evening Grosbeak and it was finding seeds along one of the many logging roads in the northern tip of the state. It appeared otherwise healthy so the loss of a leg didn’t seem to be holding this bird back.
I was brand new to photography so the photos I did take of the bird are terrible. At the time I thought they were great, but looking back … not so much. That was before digital photography — when you actually had to buy film and pay to have it developed and get prints made.
I also heard from Lenny in Greenfield who counted Evening Grosbeaks among the birds that had recently paid his feeders a visit. He attached photographic evidence as well. He also had a nice Red-breasted Nuthatch at his feeder.
So what makes the Evening Grosbeak sightings so special? They are typically found in the coniferous forests of the north, but like many finches, they come down to visit feeders “down south” some winters. Their visits have been less frequent than other birds such as the Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll or one of the crossbills.
Looking back on old New England birdwatching columns from various newspapers throughout the region, it appears that Evening Grosbeak sightings were much more frequent “back in the day.” Then again, that is true of many birds. Ruffed Grouse used to be common sightings throughout the entire region, even Connecticut and Rhode Island. Now Ruffed Grouse sightings are extremely rare in the southern part of New England.
Evening Grosbeaks are a species in decline. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the species has declined 97 percent in the eastern part of its range from 1966 to 2015. It is faring a little better in other parts of its range, but 97 percent is a huge drop off.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the reasons for the steep decline in the east are not known for sure, but may be one or a combination of several factors. Those include logging, development, disease, avian conjunctivitis, and a decline in their food.
“As climate change alters the landscape over the next century, balsam fir is expected to recede from New England, and Evening Grosbeaks may disappear from this region,” according to the Lab’s website All About Birds.
A quick look at historical Christmas Bird Count data shows that in the early 1990s, it was not uncommon for thousands of Evening Grosbeaks to be counted in New Hampshire. Last year, only three were counted and in the last five years the number never got out of double digits. In fact, in two of the last five years only one Evening Grosbeak was counted in the entire state.
That’s what makes this year’s sightings a bit heartening. I would imagine that the bird will show up on several Christmas Bird Counts throughout all of New England this year.
Now the trick it to have it keep showing up when our children and grandchildren are doing the Christmas Bird Count.