The Power of Evening Grosbeaks

The Power of Evening Grosbeaks:

By Holly Merker

Growing up, our family had two field guides kept near the kitchen window that overlooked feeders in our suburban Baltimore yard. One was the 4th edition of Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds, whose cover heralded three “grosbeaks”: Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and the golden-bedazzled Evening Grosbeak. I would flip through the guide, noticing this flashy bird who won a spot on the cover, and wonder why I’d never seen one show up at our feeders. After all, Roger Tory Peterson stated that its preferred habitat included “feeding trays”.

It wasn’t until years later, after I had taken a deep dive into birding, that I learned about the dramatic decline of the species. I understood that it was very likely I might never host this species at my own feeders. In fact, I’d be very lucky to see one in my home range of the mid-Atlantic, what’s now southeastern Pennsylvania.

Experiencing my “life bird” moment with an Evening Grosbeak required travel – and it happened unexpectedly while visiting family in Eugene, Oregon. During a sunrise stroll I spotted a spruce tree adorned with three Evening Grosbeaks, scenery reminiscent of a Christmas Tree: magical, bold, shiny and bright. Even now, I recall the simultaneous exhilaration and disbelief I felt. It was an instant mood booster, as if I had been injected with an energizing drug. A rush of dopamine and wonder transported me into the present moment. I was no longer ruminating over problems or thinking of tomorrow. Instead, I was completely in the moment, transfixed by these unexpected and mystical birds. This encounter gifted me with a life-long souvenir: a memory which still feels magical. Perhaps you, too, can think of a moment with a bird or birds which provided you a similar feeling?

An evening grosbeak at a feeder.

The expanding body of science surrounding the wellness benefits that birds can bring shows that moments of awe, and shifting our attention to the present moment, are truly good for us. These types of experiences foster a healthier mindset and provide a natural sense of calm. And let’s face it – that dopamine rush winter finches bring us sure feels good! Don’t just take it from me or the science, try it yourself and see how experiences of wonder with finches elevate your mood. 

The fantastic southward irruption of Evening Grosbeaks in 2020 couldn’t have happened at a better time. It offered a bit of a panacea for some of us amid the throes of the global pandemic in a world still filled with so much uncertainty. Even after having some terrific encounters with irruptive flocks in PA and MD that fall, I loved the idea that every step outside held the possibility of hearing and seeing a flock of “Evebeaks.” These feelings of anticipatory joy were much needed during that painfully difficult time.

Then, on November 8th, 2020 as I stood in my kitchen, I heard a familiar house-sparrow-like whistle. 

I figured I’d misheard, that it was wishful thinking… until I looked around the trees, and to my absolute shock and delight there sat an Evening Grosbeak! The long-awaited RSVP from decades ago had finally been delivered with a resounding “yes – plus one” as a second Evening Grosbeak appeared. These charismatic dining guests stuck around my yard for a few days, bringing a natural infusion of joy and wonder with every look. This happened when I really needed it, as I was dealing the sadness of a hospitalized loved one. These memories were bright spots during a difficult time, and a reminder of the positive powers and Ornitherapy birds provide us – mind + body + spirit.

At the end of the day, Wellness for Finches is Wellness for you!

Holly Merker is the owner and operator of Ornitherapy & Nature-based Wellness, LLC, based in Downingtown, PA, USA, which provides nature-based health and wellness programming, lecturing, and consulting to a varied demographic of people in the U.S. and internationally. 

Holly holds a B.A. in Art Therapy from Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, 1991, has done coursework at Towson University in psychology, as well as holds a full certification in Nature and Forest Therapy (2022, Association of Nature and Forest Therapy), and a certificate in Wellness Counseling (2023, Cornell University). She has been a professional birding guide and educator for over twenty years, working for the National Audubon Society and American Birding Association, along with many other professional ecotourism companies and nonprofits.

FiRN is a nonprofit, and was granted 501c3 status in 2020. We are a co-lead on the Evening Grosbeak Road to Recovery Project, and have funded upwards of almost $8,000 to go towards research, conservation and education for finch projects in the last year plus. FiRN is committed to researching and protecting these birds and other threatened finch species like the Evening Grosbeak, Rosy-finches, and Hawaii’s finches the honeycreepers, and if you have been enjoying all the blogs and identifying of Evening Grosbeak and Red Crossbill call types (upwards of 20,000 recordings listened to), redpoll subspecies and green morph Pine Siskins FiRN has helped with over the years, please think about supporting our efforts and making a small donation at the donate link below.


Shirt Link

For a commemorative Winter Finch Forecast shirt where proceeds will go towards the study and conservation of finches and their habitats globally, see here:


The Finch Research Network has a feedercam co-sponsored by Aspen Song Wild Bird Food, who is a member of Wild Bird Feeding Institute, and that went live again in Caribou, Maine in November 2023.

Please think about joining these Finch Research Network iNaturalist Projects:

Winter Finch Food Assessment Project/Become a Finch Forecaster:

Red Crossbill North American Foraging Project:

Evening Grosbeak North American Foraging Project:

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