Pine Grosbeak: A High Elevation Bird

By Dave Hanks

I really wanted a Pine Grosbeak photo, and we had traveled a long ways to get it. There they were, right at my feet – but, too close to focus. Then, with a start, they were all gone. Have you ever seen a grown man cry – well, almost. I had waited and waited for this, and they had come and gone and not a single picture taken!

This is a bird of Canada’s boreal forests. It also inhabits the high elevations of our mountains. The best place to search for them is high up the mountain close to the tree line. They only migrate a short distance south, or down the mountains, and only when winter is especially bitter. They require plenty of water every day but are willing to consume snow if necessary.

This beautiful, (8-10 inch) chunky bird really stands out against a snowy backdrop. The male has a bright red head, back, and chest. This makes a pleasing contrast with its silver sides, black tail, and black wings that are splotched with white. The female is yellow/olive - instead of the red of her mate.

The Pine Grosbeak’s diet is almost totally seeds, buds, fruits, and nuts – although they will feed insects to their young. They also develop a pouch on the floor of their mouth to carry food to the nestlings. In winter, a flock will remain in a single tree until all fruit is consumed.

After failures in the Colorado passes, I finally got my photo in the Snowy Mountains, south of Laramie, Wyoming! We were also lucky to see a pair at Lake Cleveland during one July camping trip. There is a snow-melt pond by the first campsites. It had almost evaporated when we arrived. I saw birds greedily coming to drink, bathe, and eat the tadpoles. I put a stick in the middle and sat in a camp chair and waited. My wife couldn’t believe me when I returned to the camper and reported that I had just photographed Pine Grosbeak.

I search for this bird up in the Krumholtz -

Up where the trees are stunted and bent.

Its plump body, dressed in silver and red,

Makes for a quest well spent!

(A Snowy Mountain treat)