Pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)

GenusPinicola (1)
SizeLength: 20 - 25 cm (2)
Wingspan: c. 33 cm (2)
Weight53 - 78 g (3)
Top facts

The pine grosbeak is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The pine grosbeak (Pinocla enucleator) is a large, plump, heavy-chested bird, which differs in appearance between sexes (2) (3). The distinctive plumage of the male is deep rose-pink on the head, neck, breast and rump, grey on each side of the body, and streaked black on the upperparts (2) (3) (4). The throat is grey or white and there are also white or grey patches underneath the eyes (3). The male pine grosbeak has a long, notched black-brown tail with a grey underside, and there are conspicuous white wingbars on its brown-black wings (2) (3) (4). The tips of some of the flight feathers are white (2) (3).

The distinctive bill of the pine grosbeak is dark grey or black in both sexes and is large, stubby and conical, with the upper mandible overlapping the lower (2) (3). The eyes are cinnamon or dark brown and the legs, toes and claws are dark brown, or occasionally grey-horn (3).

The female pine grosbeak is smaller than the male (3) and is equally as distinctive (4). The head and rump of the female are yellow-olive to red-bronze, while the rest of the body is uniformly grey (2) (3). The juvenile pine grosbeak is almost indistinguishable from the adult female until its second year of life (2) (3), although it is slightly duller and greyer (4). Occasionally young males have red or orange feathers within their plumage, which are not present in the female (2).

There are nine recognised subspecies of pine grosbeak, which vary in their breeding range, body size and bill size and shape, as well as in the length of the wings, tail and legs (3).

The clear, flute-like song of the pine grosbeak is used during courtship, to maintain pair bonds and for the defence of a territory (2) (3). This bird is also able to mimic the vocalisations of other species (3). 

The wide range of the pine grosbeak stretches across the northern hemisphere, from Europe, across Russia, China and Japan, to Canada and the United States (2) (3) (5). It is also found as a vagrant in western parts of Europe, such as Austria, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany (5).

During the breeding season the pine grosbeak is usually found in open sub-Arctic and boreal forests where there is an abundance of coniferous trees, although it is also known to inhabit mixed forests (2) (3) (4). During the winter, the pine grosbeak uses a wider variety of habitats, including urban areas (2).

The diet of the pine grosbeak is mainly composed of the seeds and buds of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans), box elder (Acer negundo) and ash trees (Fraxinus spp.), as well as the fruits of junipers and spruce (2). Although the pine grosbeak does not truly migrate, it moves through its range in response to food availability (3).

In late May, the female pine grosbeak builds a nest, which is usually between two and four metres from the ground and is well concealed within the dense foliage of the trees. The outer layer of the nest is constructed using conifer twigs, roots and grass stems and is then lined with grass, lichens, feathers and conifer needles (3).

In late May or June (3), the female pine grosbeak lays a clutch of between two and five eggs, which are pale blue with dark brown, purple and black dots and markings (2) (3) (6). The female then incubates the eggs for 13 to 14 days and is fed by her mate during this period (3) (6).

When the eggs have hatched, the male and female pine grosbeak both feed the hatchlings, carrying the food in a pouch on the floor of their mouths (2) (3). This pouch, known as the ‘buccal pouch’, is only developed in breeding adults (2). The diet of nestling pine grosbeaks is mostly insect matter (2) (3). Only one brood is raised per season (6).

In winter, the pine grosbeak is gregarious and can be found in large flocks (2) (3). However, during the breeding season it is very territorial (2) (3), and the male defends its territory by vocalising (3).

A common cause of mortality in the pine grosbeak is collisions with road traffic when foraging close to roads. Some populations of this species have also decreased due to habitat loss and deforestation (3). However, the pine grosbeak is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction as it is a widespread and common species (5). 

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for the pine grosbeak. This species would benefit from research into its populations, which could aid in the implementation of an appropriate conservation strategy (3). 

Find out more about the pine grosbeak:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2012)
  2. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - Pine grosbeak (May, 2012)
  3. Adkisson, C.S. (1999) Pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  4. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
  5. BirdLife International (June, 2012)
  6. Harrison, H.H. (1979) Western Birds’ Nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.