It’s February, and you’re out for a walk or a snowshoe in K-County, and a bird flies by. You see flashes of gray and red and you think, “My goodness, the robins are back early!”
Not so fast. You’ve probably just had a chance encounter with a Pine Grosbeak.
Pine Grosbeaks are year-round residents of K-Country, but in the summer, they tend to hide in high elevation pine forests, coming down to valley bottoms in the winter. A member of the finch family, they’re not at all averse to snow, and suffer cold temperatures willingly. They are an eruptive species and travel in substantial flocks, and so if you find them, you rarely see just one. The males and females are quite different, as you can see in the photo to the right. The males are the red ones, while the females have a rusty yellow colouration. Both have black and white wing bars.
The amount of coloured plumage increases with age, too. Younger birds have less colouration, sometimes only the hood on their head (like immature male in the photo to the right), and are obvious when seen side by side with fully decked out older birds.
They feed on all sorts of seeds and berries including rose hips and pine cones. They feed in trees or on the ground, and are not particularly skittish, so can be approached reasonably easily for photography.
And they like bird feeders. Where feeders are permitted, K-Country residents from Canmore down to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park will get regular visits from flocks numbering in the dozens.
Meet more of the critters of K-Country here!