Call me silly or naive, but I feel hon­ored when a spe­cial bird vis­its my bird feed­ing sta­tion. This fab­u­lously beau­ti­ful and inter­est­ing bird is the Evening Grosbeak.

The flock is, indeed, a gross of grosbeaks–I didn’t just invent that.


Until today I had only seen a sin­gle Evening Gros­beak. That was about a year ago and I wasn’t able to snap a photo before it flit­ted away.

Today, I was play­ing hooky from work and catch­ing up on my iron­ing while gaz­ing out the back win­dows. (Do I know how to have a good time on a Fri­day or what?) From where I iron in the kitchen, I can see the bird feed­ing sta­tions, which con­sist of two free-standing poles–one with sev­eral small feed­ers, includ­ing a nyger feeder for the Goldfinches, a larger hop­per feeder with a plat­form under­neath to catch stray seed and a sin­gle two-tiered feeder hang­ing in a tree.

I imme­di­ately noticed a flash of white on the wings of a bird fly­ing to the hop­per feeder. Since our usual bird buf­fet guests are Tufted Tit­mouses, Chick­adees, Nuthatches and Goldfinches–none of which have this dis­tinc­tive white shoul­der patch–I was imme­di­ately cap­ti­vated. I snagged my binoc­u­lars and confirmed–EUREKA! EVENING GROSBEAKS! And not one! A gross of grosbeaks!

Of course, I was torn between watch­ing before they flew away and run­ning for my cam­era. You can tell that I took the gam­ble and scram­bled for the cam­era with the long lens. Then I had to scram­ble for the tri­pod because the long lens is, well, long. It is quite heavy and needs the tri­pod for sta­bi­liza­tion. I crossed my fin­gers and tippy toed just out­side the back door and banged off a few shots.


Just then, the work­men who were to install a new front door sys­tem arrived. Why is it that these guys never arrive on time unless you’re tak­ing pho­tos of Evening Gros­beaks or have just stepped out of the shower?

Well, of course, they all flew away. There was no hope of their return­ing with all the com­mo­tion of door removal and instal­la­tion. Still, I feel hon­ored that they vis­ited and will be look­ing out­side hope­fully for days to come.

Here in Mary­land the Evening Gros­beak is only a win­ter vis­i­tor. Although a type of finch, the Evening Gros­beak is more along the size of a Robin. The males have a bril­liant yel­low color, even in win­ter, while the females are more drab. The wings have back tips and a white band that is very notice­able when they are mov­ing about.

An Evening Gros­beak has a dis­tinc­tive and facile method of eat­ing sun­flower seeds, dex­ter­ously manip­u­lat­ing it with his cone-shaped bill. They are prodi­gious eaters and can wipe out a feeder given the oppor­tu­nity. They also are known for eat­ing large quan­ti­ties of salt and fine salty gravel from roadways.

I’ll be peer­ing out the win­dows again tomor­row. There is an ice storm headed our way, but I am pre­pared. I stocked up at K-Mart yes­ter­day on flash­light bat­ter­ies, can­dles, camp stove fuel and even a cof­fee per­co­la­tor. (Gotta have that java!) Since we lose water as well as power when the elec­tric­ity goes out, I’ll be fill­ing our bath­tubs with water once the storm moves in. I’ll also be up early tomor­row morn­ing to bake bread, a cake and make soup that can be eas­ily heated on a camp stove.

My hus­band and son find my storm prepa­ra­tions amus­ing. The peo­ple at K-Mart looked at me yes­ter­day like I was some sort of sur­vival­ist out for my annual sur­vival gear shop­ping spree.

Oh well. I am naive about birds and amus­ing about my storm prepa­ra­tions. At least I’m not totally dull.

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I first noticed some­thing was afoot when I was doing my morn­ing walk. The crows were in an uproar!

We have sev­eral pairs of crows that live in the trees near our hay field. Despite their neg­a­tive rep­u­ta­tion, I adore crows. I enjoy the way they call back and forth from the tree­tops as if they’re hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion. And they aren’t fright­ened when I walk by–they just keep up their dialogue.

Crows are quite smart and can mimic the sounds of other birds and even humans. Although they may chase small ani­mals, it’s all just part of their crow-minded entertainment.

“Hoho! Isn’t it fun to ter­rify the Papillons!”

Crows can live to be 20 years old. They often re-use their nests each year. And crows that aren’t mated pitch in to help raise the other young birds. They also will col­lect any­thing they find that is bright and shiny. Who wouldn’t love a bird who appre­ci­ates glit­tery finery!?!

So this morn­ing, the crows were hav­ing a fit.

The woods were FILLED with a humon­gous pack of birds singing their heads off. I couldn’t see the bird pack, but I could cer­tainly hear them. And the crows appar­ently were hav­ing quite a con­ver­sa­tion about how to han­dle the situation.

I couldn’t iden­tify the mys­tery bird sounds because they were all chat­ter­ing at once. But while I was gaz­ing out the win­dow and munch­ing on my icky, puny, sad salad lunch, I saw what I believe was the cause of the ruckus. Hun­dreds and hun­dreds of Red-Winged Blackbirds!


The male Red-Winged Black­bird is very distinctive–a jet black with a red epaulette on his wings. The females are more drab brown, but with dis­tinc­tive streaks on their undersides.

The bird books all say that the Red-Winged Black­bird is a com­mon bird in Mary­land and Delaware. Well, I don’t care what the books say, we don’t really see much of them except in the win­ter. And when they do arrive, I usu­ally only catch a glimpse of one or two.

My Stan Tekiela book on the Birds of Mary­land & Delaware, which is prac­ti­cally worn to shreds from being fran­ti­cally thumbed through, says that up to thou­sands of these birds will gather in fields like ours.

Well, today was a stel­lar bird day because, as you can see, there were hun­dreds. This photo only shows a small part of the field that they covered.


Of course, you can count on a Papil­lon to keep things excit­ing, so Sarah chased them into the trees.


They gave her what-for.

Too bad I actu­ally have a job and can’t keep look­ing out the win­dow. A bunch of Robins have finally arrived en masse today too.

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Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, is now available from Taunton Press. Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.


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