Pine Grosbeak – An Arctic Breed of True Finch

pine grosbeak
Pine grosbeak birds live predominantly in the Northern part of the US, Canada, and Alaska. These birds are short migrators only going as far south as the New England states, as they have an affinity for colder weather. With their red appearance, pine grosbeaks are easy to spot eating their herbivore diets.  

The pine grosbeak is a cold-weather-loving bird. If you want to catch a glimpse of this breed of finch with their stubby bills and unique coloring, avid birders need to head north! The pine grosbeak is a cold-weather year-round resident in Northern Canada, Alaska, and parts of the United States.

They prefer the dense protection of pine forests during the breeding season and live on a diet of 100 percent plants. This North American bird prefers cooler temperatures but sometimes migrates to short-distance wintering ground in search of food.

Features of the Pine Grosbeak

The pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) is a finch or Fringillidae family member. While they have similar features to the purple finch or other finches subspecies, their short and stubby bill makes them stand apart. Male pine grosbeaks have accents of red on their head and chest with gray accents on their wings and tail feathers. Their wings are accented with white wing bars that starkly contrast against muted gray and red coloring.

Adult female pine grosbeaks and immature males have a much more muted color pattern than adult males. Their underparts’ unique shades of red and gray can also change based on their location. Pine grosbeaks that live in warmer climates, such as California and the Western Mountains, aren’t as red as their northern counterparts. As you travel to warmer areas, their red coloring transitions to orange for males and yellow for females.

natural setting for pine grosbeak

Natural Habitats of the Pine Grosbeak

As their name suggests, the pine grosbeak lives in dense coniferous, boreal, and pine forests. These native North American birds prefer pine forests because they are rich in seeds, crabapples, and nesting materials. While they spend their breeding season as far north as Alaska and much of Canada, they often migrate farther south to the upper midwest and New England states in search of food. The pine grosbeak is a cold-weather bird and isn’t found in southern states such as Florida, even during migration. If you want to sneak a peek at the pine grosbeak, you must travel north!

Range and Migration

The pine grosbeak is a short-distance migrant, but some pine grosbeaks stay in their summer breeding grounds if there are plentiful food sources. Their range map includes most of Canada, but sometimes flocks of short-distant migrants travel to other parts of the United States during the winter months. During the breeding season, pine grosbeaks make nests in cooler climates, primarily in Northern Canada, Alaska, and parts of the Rocky Mountains.

If food sources (such as sunflower seeds) run low, they will migrate further south to the Great Lakes region to areas with mountain ash, maple, and ash forests for more abundant food sources. Even though pine grosbeaks sometimes migrate, they are cold-weather birds that never travel further south than the Great Lakes.

Lifespan and Mating Rituals

Pine grosbeaks have a lifespan of 9 years, but climate, weather conditions, predators, and food sources often cut their lives short. During the breeding season (between mid-May and early August), male pine grosbeaks sing to defend their territories. Unlike other bird species, they do not sing to attract a mate. Instead, pine grosbeaks’ mating rituals include feeding female grosbeaks to demonstrate their parenting abilities. If a female selects a male as her partner, she will start the process of building her nest high in the treetops.

Nesting and Eggs

You have to look hard to spot the nest of a pine grosbeak. Pine grosbeaks primarily build nests on a horizontal branch from materials such as rootlets, grass, and twigs at the central base of a pine tree. Their nests sit at high elevations, at least 6 feet off the ground and sometimes as high as 16 feet off the ground. They prefer the dense protection of heavy pine trees to shield the nest from predators, and the inside is lined with soft feathers, lichen, and grass.

The pine grosbeak lay between two to five eggs per brood, with an average of four. The eggs are small with a pale blue hue accented with purple, brown, and black spots. During the breeding season, pine grosbeaks only raise one brood per year, although, on rare occasions, they may raise two. During incubation, the female incubates the eggs alone while the male brings her food. After 14 days, the eggs hatch.

pine grosbeak

Nestlings and Fledglings

After the eggs hatch, the male and female pine grosbeak take turns feeding nestlings. While most baby songbirds eat a diet rich in bugs for protein, the pine grosbeak eats plants and vegetation primarily. Because plant materials are too complex for young birds to digest, pine grosbeaks have pouches in their throats that allow them to store pre-digested vegetable matter that they feed their young. Their unique throat pouches that develop during the breeding season will enable them to stash more food, but it also helps to soften it so that their young can digest it more easily.

How To Spot A Pine Grosbeak

If you live in their breeding range, spotting a pine grosbeak is easy. They are considered slow-moving songbirds that won’t flutter away when you get too close. Pine grosbeaks will eat at bird-feeders if you want to attract them to your backyard space. These Passeriformes love black oil sunflower seeds or hulled sunflower seeds served in traditional perch feeders. They are often found year-round in cooler climates in Canada but sometimes can be spotted further south in the Great Lakes region during winter in search of new food sources.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer that loves her backyard birdfeeders. She enjoys sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee, watching cardinals, blue jays, finches, and chickadees munch away at her backyard offerings. Her fascination with birds began as a child; spending afternoons at her grandma's house watching and identifying birds. She has since carried her love of songbirds into adulthood and ensures no bird in her yard goes hungry!

Recent Posts