Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 668   February 24, 1962
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

This has been a memorable winter for bird watchers. Considerable numbers of several colorful species from the far north visited the Chicago region, probably because of a scarcity of food in the Canadian evergreen forests. In some winters we see very few of those birds or none of them.

Naturalists at the Little Red Schoolhouse nature center reported evening grosbeaks and purple finches appearing during the last week of October and redpolls a week later. Small flocks of evening grosbeaks and white- winged crossbills were seen elsewhere in the preserves in early December. All of those belong to the largest group of birds, the seed eaters. Some members of that family commonly nest in the preserves: the cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, red-eyed towhee, goldfinch, indigo bunting, and several kinds of sparrows.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak winters in Central America, Colombia and Ecuador. Its white bill, short and cone-shaped, is typical of grosbeaks -- extremely heavy and powerful for cracking seeds. The male, black on top and white underneath, has broad white bars on the wings and a large triangular rose-red patch on his chest. The female is very different -- streaked with brown like a big sparrow -- but she has the same type of bill and white wing bars.

They build a flimsy nest, from 5 to 15 feet above ground, usually in a thicket or woodland border not far from a stream, pond, or marsh. Unlike most highly colored birds, the male also sits on the eggs and both may sing softly while doing so. His melodious song is sweeter than a robin's, the alarm note is a metallic "clink" similar to that of other grosbeaks and the cardinal. During summer this grosbeak's food is wild seeds, fruits, and insects, including such quantities of the destructive potato beetle that it is also called the Potato-bug Bird.

The Eastern Evening Grosbeak is the same size but chunkier, and a strikingly handsome bird. The male has a brownish head and neck with a bright yellow forehead, yellow streak over the eye, yellow breast, yellow back, black wings with a big white patch, and a short black tail. Its huge beak is pale yellowish green. The female's coloring is subdued and grayish.

When first discovered they were thought to sing only at sundown -- hence the name. They nest in the spruce, fir and pine forests of Canada and some of our northern states, feeding on the seeds, fruits and buds of many kinds of trees and shrubs, also insects in summer. In autumn they gather in flocks which may remain in the breeding territory all winter or wander haphazardly southward where they sometimes wander from Illinois to Vermont and vice versa. They are fond of box elder seeds and the sunflower seeds at feeding stations.

The Pine Grosbeak is a species with several races that breed in the northern forests of Europe, Kamchatka, Alaska and Canada. This is the largest of all grosbeaks and the upper bill of its big beak curves downward at the tip. The head, breast and rump of an adult male are rosy red. The wings, with two white bars, and the tail are black. A female is grayish except for two white wing bars and an olive-green head and rump. In winter, pine grosbeaks may wander southward until we see them here -- perhaps a few but sometimes in flocks of a hundred or more -- very bold and unsuspicious.

The Blue Grosbeak is a strictly southern species that nests from the Gulf Coast to Maryland, southern Illinois and Nebraska. The male is a deep purplish blue with two brown wing bars. Females have the wing bars but are dull brownish sometimes tinged with blue.

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