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The bird is so yellow they used to call it the banana bird. It’s so big it won’t fit in your hand. But the rarely seen evening grosbeak might sit nicely at your bird feeder this winter.
A shortage of pine cone seeds in the Northeast and Ontario has the seed-eating grosbeak, other finches and similar birds on the move like it hasn’t been seen in years. Ornithologist Dennis Forsythe and other birders say this might become the best year in a generation for spotting wintering birds you just don’t see here.
In other words, this might be a good Christmas to give him or her that bird feeder you’ve been getting hints about.
Forsythe, who documents South Carolina sightings for the online bird listing eBird, hasn’t seen an evening grosbeak locally since the 1970s.
He’s already seen a red-breasted nuthatch at his James Island bird feeder, and he’s seen that bird only once before. Endearingly, the nuthatch has been snatching sunflower seeds from the feeder and storing them on a nearby tree branch.
Forsythe has never seen a white-winged crossbill, and “a big flight is apparently on the move,” he said. The birds have begun showing up in Manteo on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Sightings could get even wackier, he said. Birds such as pine grosbeaks or Bohemian waxwings could arrive. They’re usually not seen anywhere near this far south.
“The indications are this stuff is moving and it’s going to be a really big year,” Forsythe said.
Any one of the species or more could turn up with cool regulars like pine siskins, and purple or gold finches. The big question: When would they arrive?
“Who knows? Any time now. As weather worsens, they move on,” Forsythe said.
Watch for visitors
Any number of unusual birds could turn up. Here’s a few of the more unusual to watch for:
Long-billed, short-tailed birds about palm size. Excitable.
Calls like tiny tin horns.
Collects resin from pine trees to coat the rim of its tree nest hole, likely to ward off predators.
Large, brightly colored. Large white patch on the wing.
When a flock settles to feed, it can clean out a feeder in short time.
A female once collided with an airplane more than a mile in the air. Ornithologists don’t know if that high altitude is unusual for the birds.
Stocky, red or green, black wings with two large white wing bars.
Can eat up to 3,000 cone seeds per day.
Red feathers of the male have barbs that can make the wings look pink early in the winter.
Stocky, red or greenish body, darker wings, short notched tail and thick, curved bill with crossed tips.
So dependent on cone seeds it feeds them to its young.
Odd-shaped bill thought to help it get into pine cones.
Bill shapes and calls vary. Different calls are said to correspond to different bill shapes.
Plump, curved stubby bill. Dark wings with two white crossbars. Males are red; females olive and gray.
Largest and rarest of the “winter finches.”
Called “mope” locally in Newfoundland because it’s so tame and slow-moving.
Brownish-gray, black-mask face, crest on the head, tail yellow-tipped, white-edged wing feathers.
The name refers to the nomadic movement of winter flocks said to be like gypsies.
One of only three waxwing species known to exist.
Source: Cornell University, All About Birds