Tameness in Pine Grosbeaks in Alaska


This page contains 10 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Mon 24/07/06 20:44).

During June 1994 David Hosking and I spent several memorable days at Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

Our hosts Ken and Judy Marlowe were keen birders and had a plethora of feeders set up on their balcony. As photographers David and I spent our first day or so watching and photographing those species coming regularly. These included Grey Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, Common Redpolls, White–crowned Sparrows, Fox Sparrows and several Pine Grosbeaks.

All the birds were extremely approachable but the Grosbeaks behaved like pets. If you place a little food on the floor they would fly through the French doors into the lounge. After taking a number of photographs of the birds feeding I picked up several of the birds to examine their plumage differences in the hand. They accepted this without any panic and when I placed each bird back on the ground they just carried on feeding. David took a picture of me holding a juvenile.

The author with a juvenile Pine Grosbeak (photo: David Hosking)
The author with a juvenile Pine Grosbeak (photo: David Hosking).

Even when we encountered this species in the forest they were very approachable, binoculars often unnecessary.

I have written this article to point out that tameness alone does not preclude a Pine Grosbeak being of wild origins. So good luck to the Essex/Herts bird and all who have seen him.

NB – The Marlowes will be at the BirdFair at Rutland Water this August with their own stand. You can ask them more about Pine Grosbeaks or even book to go and see them.

Related pages

Pine Grosbeak Pine Grosbeak

The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (10)

Whilst its tameness may not necessarily count against the Herts Pine Grosbeak (who can forget the hand-feedable Upland Sandpiper in Scilly?), the bent leg and pink feet (both symptoms of cagebird diseases), plus the time of year completely rule this bird out as a serious contender for a genuine vagrant. Pine Grosbeaks are exceedingly rare in the UK, even when there are major erruptions of the species just across the North Sea.
   Richard Thomas, 20/07/06 13:05Report inappropriate post Report 
Can someone please link a photo that shows this bent-legged appearance as I've been unable to notice it. As for the pinkish tones on the feet and legs - I've been able to find pics of wild Pine Grosbeaks with this colouration.
   Simon Mitchell, 20/07/06 14:02Report inappropriate post Report 
Come on Richard let's keep an open mind and try not to reach a conclusion until all the evidence is at hand. My brother is involved (as a canary judge) in the cage bird world and feels that such a bird would be ringed if escaped from a aviculturist. It would be very valuable and an owner losing it would probably be trying to find it. I have heard that Pensthorpe may have some of this species. Has anyone tried to find out if they have lost any? Otherwise where the hell does it come from? It seems to me that much more searching needs to be done. Anyway it's a great bird.
   Derek Moore, 20/07/06 15:29Report inappropriate post Report 
About 20 years ago, in late June, Paul Greenwood (Durham University zoologist) and I saw a singing male Pine Grosbeak in the marshy scrub area to the west of Malham Tarn (Yorkshire) where we were running a Natural History course. We watched it for a long while and approached it closely. It was so blatantly an escape (wrong place, wrong time, approachable) that we didn't even consider reporting it. Habitat was spot on. Perhaps we were very wrong.
   Jonathan Adams, 20/07/06 16:19Report inappropriate post Report 
Why is it an absolute that this bird was only in the country from the begining of July. Surely no one beleives the first day it was seen was the first day it arrived in the country! I know the area where the bird first appeared. Its rural, lots of farm land and scattered small villages. It could have easily been around for months with out being noticed!! On the positive side it has been found in the East of the country.
   Tim Corke, 21/07/06 06:58Report inappropriate post Report 
Sorry to disappoint everyone. As the first bird watcher (I'm not a twitcher!) to see and photograph this bird, I was as intrigued as anyone as to where it had come from. The logical thing seemed to be to write to Cage & Aviary Birds to ask if anyone had lost a Pine Grosbeak. My letter (with photograph) was published yesterday, and I have now spoken to the man whose aviary it escaped from on 23 June. I was intrigued to learn from him that it is not a cock at all, as most people had assumed, but a colour-fed female, something we should perhaps be more aware of. The moral to this is if you want to see a real Pine Grosbeak, go to Scandinavia. They are a challenge to find there, but very satisfying to see when you finally succeed. Perhaps the twitching fraternity should liase more closely with aviculturalists in a bid to establish how many rare birds have escaped from captivity?
   David Tomlinson, 21/07/06 11:33Report inappropriate post Report 
Well, that looks pretty conclusive to me Derek! Good point from David re aviculturalists. There's a very interesting list of species in the DEFRA "Licence to permit the competitive showing of certain captive bred live wild birds" At: www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/regulat/forms/cons_man/wlf100007.pdf. Every single one of the 40 species is a British vagrant (or scarce migrant) - and it includes such goodies as Pine Grosbeak, Sibe Rubythroat, Sibe Thrush, Red-flanked Bluetail, several Yank vagrants...makes you think doesn't it?
   Richard Thomas, 21/07/06 12:26Report inappropriate post Report 
Well I never! It was fun while it lasted. Good detective work David! See you at Rutland Richard
   Derek Moore, 21/07/06 12:39Report inappropriate post Report 
Interesting, that an aviculturist should keep what seems to be quite a scarce bird in captivity without it being ringed in anyway. DEFRA says that any bird listed by them must be close-ringed (ringed as a pullus while the toes and feet are soft to allow the ring to slide over) before it can be placed in any bird-show or offered for sale. I wonder if the owner is going to try to recover his/her property - it shouldn't be too difficult. The following website has info on red-colour feeding http://www.petcraft.com/docs/redcan.shtml
   Jeff Hazell, 21/07/06 14:18Report inappropriate post Report 
Hi David well done on deciding to go the Cage and Aviary Birds route but there is something very fishy about this. The bird at Gilston is most definitely a male NOT a female. There appears to be too many people willing this to be all wrong I do not believe he has ever been ringed and the supposed owner must have some documentation as to where the bird came from and when it was imported. For tameness just look at the bird in Alaska although that said I have seen the Gilston bird many times and although you can quite close to him he does not allow anyone to touch him.
   Philip CG, 24/07/06 20:44Report inappropriate post Report 

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