The Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) is an almighty large finch that inhabits both the western and eastern hemispheres. Living up to its namesake, the Pine grosbeak inhabits coniferous boreal habitats of the upper northern hemisphere.
Both the male and female are colorful, but they look markedly different. This is a guide to female Pine grosbeaks, what they look like, how to identify them, and other key differences to males.
Male and female Pine grosbeaks have similar plumage patterns and markings, but with one big difference - males are rose-red, whereas females are golden or tan-yellow.
Females take care of virtually all breeding and nesting duties, including building nests, incubating eggs, and brooding young.
Pine grosbeaks are hardy birds that tend to live in cold environments, often at relatively high elevations of over 3,000ft or so. They’re not particularly common, but you’ll find them in parts of the Sierra Nevada, Rocky Mountains, and many of Canada’s coniferous national parks.
Read on to learn more about female Pine grosbeaks!
Pine Grosbeak female perched on a branch
Once they reach adulthood, male and female Pine grosbeaks are straightforward to tell apart from their coloration as the male is red and the female is yellow.
Males are raspberry or rose-red on the head, breast, rump, sides, and back. The shade of red does vary; California and western populations are more orange-red, and Canadian populations are more brick-red.
European and Asian populations are raspberry-red and vary little in color across their eastern hemispheric range.
Females have similar plumage patterns to males but lack any red plumage. Instead, the red is replaced by a tan or golden yellow. Their black wings and plumage are slightly greyer, giving a duller overall appearance, but females are still quite colorful.
Young Pine grosbeaks are tougher to tell apart, appearing more like females until they molt into their adult plumage, which is when males take on their redder appearance.
Female Pine Grosbeak
Male Pine Grosbeak
Adult female Pine Grosbeaks are golden, olive, or tan-yellow on the head, back, breast, sides, and rump with a gray back and gray-white underparts.
Pine grosbeaks are large finches with strong, conical beaks. They have a long black tail and black and white wings with white wing bars.
Female Pine Grosbeak during the winter
Male Pine grosbeaks are marginally larger than females, but there are few reliable measurements. The difference is marginal.
In the breeding season, Pine grosbeaks - who are usually quite social - become fiercely territorial. Males establish territories of around 400m in diameter, which they patrol, singing from branches to announce their presence to others.
There’s little data on pair formation, but the male displays an upright stance, circling the female with his posture raised and head held up. He occasionally flicks his tails and wings. Mating follows shortly after.
Nests seem to be chosen by both birds. The female builds the nest, which is a small open-cupped nest built in the fork of a tree or tree branch. Once the female lays her clutch, she incubates them alone, but the male often lingers around to defend her. The female broods chicks, but both the male and female feed them.
Males are more alert and conspicuous than females. Females often linger in foliage and are tougher to spot, whereas males hop along branches and generally make themselves easier to see.
Outside of the breeding season, Pine grosbeaks are gregarious and often forage in small groups of 5 to 15 birds. Some studies have observed advanced social behaviors, such as play between birds from different kinship groups.
Female Pine Grosbeak perched in a spruce tree during the fall
Both sexes sing, but the male is louder and more conspicuous. He wings loudly from tall perches in his territory, the main song being a flute-like melody that is louder at dawn. They sing through the daylight hours of 9:00 to 17:00 or so. The male has a gentler call that he sings when around the female.
The female does sing, but quieter than the male and much less frequently. They’re almost silent in the breeding season other than when they’re nesting, in which case they may sing to the male to instruct him to feed her and/or the chicks. These birds seem to pick up songs from others around them, such as wrens.
Juvenile Pine grosbeaks all look similar until their summer molt, when males adopt the redder plumage. Females remain yellow but molt into darker wings and tail plumage. Juveniles are fluffier and scruffier with golden-yellow tinges.
Female (left) and male (right) Pine Grosbeak pair perched in a tree
The female Pine grosbeak handles the majority of nesting duties. She builds the nest, lays the eggs, incubates them, and broods the chicks to keep them warm.
However, the male does feed the young, which is probably crucial in their early development.
Also, since they live in cold environments, the female has to brood the chicks continuously for a few days to keep them warm. If she had to leave the nest to forage, they’d be unlikely to survive.
Interestingly, in captivity, male Pine grosbeaks reportedly play a greater role in rearing chicks and will even rear them alone.
Female Pine Grosbeak feeding on rowan berries
Female Pine grosbeaks are best-described as yellow, golden-yellow, tan-yellow, or olive-yellow. They’re markedly different from the rose or raspberry-red males.
Female Pine grosbeaks possess most of the same calls and songs as the male, including a flute-like melodic song. However, they’re quieter than males and sing much less frequently.
Females have a unique call - a soft whistle - that they use to instruct the male to feed them And the young nestlings.
Adult male Pine Grosbeak feeding fledgling female
While female Pine grosbeaks share most of the same songs as males, they only sing infrequently and are largely silent in the breeding season at least. Females do have one or two unique songs, including a soft whistling song that they use to signal the male to feed them and/or the chicks.
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