Posted by: Dan | November 20, 2006

Decline of Evening Grosbeaks

I heard about this article some weeks ago, and I forget where, although I think that it was on the Cayuga_birds listserv here at Cornell. Regardless, I came across it again on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s site All About Birds: Evening Grosbeaks: Where have you gone?. As anything but an expert of a birdwatcher, I would be overjoyed to have even one Evening Grosbeak in my yard. Alas, all I can do is relay this first-hand account of how abundant they used to be…

This past winter a few boxes of old bird-banding data were donated to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by a relative of a deceased bander, Stuart Wilson, Jr. As a bird bander myself, I immediately appreciated the meticulous records Wilson had maintained and I began to leaf through the many journals. What amazed me more than anything was the section detailing Wilson’s encounters with Evening Grosbeaks.

Between November 1957 and May 1958, Wilson banded 1,336 grosbeaks around his home in Deposit, New York. Most of these birds stayed in the vicinity for extended periods of time, as indicated by the series of dates etched in green ink next to individual band numbers in Wilson’s journals. One male grosbeak, #56-162981, was captured 11 times during the winter of 1957–58 and returned for several more winters. It was last captured in April 1962 when the bird was at least six years old.

Wilson’s journals are remarkable for many reasons; foremost is the reality that his grosbeak records simply could not be matched today. In fact, Wilson once banded 59 grosbeaks in a single day, January 17, 1959. Today, it is almost impossible to see 59 grosbeaks in New York in one day, let alone to capture them!

And the article continues then with Project Feederwatch data detailing their decline in recent decades. It’s kinda depressing.


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