Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Pine Grosbeak

Pinicola enucleator

Length: 9.5 inches Wingspan: 14 inches Seasonality: Rare in Winter
ID Keys: Pink and gray (male), females gray with yellow on head, long tail, stubby bill, two white wing-bars

Pine Grosbeak - Pinicola enucleatorThe Pine Grosbeak is normally a bird of the boreal forests of Canada and the mountain west of the United States.  However, when food conditions are poor in their normal range, they may stage large irruptive migrations well to the south and east, including to parts of South Dakota.  They have been found in scattered locations from all parts of the state, but never in very high numbers, and generally not consistently to the same locations.  Closest breeding locations are in far northern Minnesota.  


Found in open conifer forest during the summer breeding season.  Usually, it's spruce and fir they're found in, not pine (despite the name).  In winter, they can also often be found in deciduous trees, especially trees that produce edible fruit.


Primarily feeds on plant material, especially the seeds of conifers and other trees, tree buds, fruits and berries, and occasionally the seeds of weeds and grasses.  They will also eat insects when available during the summer months.


Moves deliberately branches of trees and shrubs when foraging, often in small flocks.


Non-breeder in South Dakota. In their breeding range, the nest of a Pine Grosbeak is typically placed in a dense evergreen tree, between 4 and 15 feet from the ground, occasionally somewhat higher. The nest is built on a foundation of twigs, weed stems, and roots, with an inner cup lined with fine grasses, lichen, moss, or hair. The female builds the nest, and lays between 2 and 5 eggs. Young hatch after about 2 weeks, and fledge from the nest after another 2 to 3 weeks.


Rich, whistled warbling from the male. They also have multi-note flight calls that are variable based on location


Primarily a permanent resident throughout much of its range, although birds at the northern end of its range may move southward in the winter.  They do sometimes make winter 'invasions' well to the south of their normal range if poor food conditions exist.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Pine Grosbeak sightings

Bird Feeders:

Will attend feeders for various seeds, especially sunflower seeds.

South Dakota "Hotspot"

As rare winter visitors, there is no consistent "hotspot", but the area with the most sightings has been around Aberdeen, with sightings for multiple years at both the Mina Lake Recreation Area, and Richmond Lake State Park. Sightings have also been made in multiple years in the Pierre area, including personal sightings by myself on 2 occasions along the shores of Lake Oahe, just northwest of the dam. Overall though, Pine Grosbeaks aren't generally a species you can go out and specifically hope to find in South Dakota, unless there are specific reports that you can follow up on.

Similar Species:

Coloring and bill shape are distinctive compared to some other somewhat similar species.  Species most likely to be confused with a Pine Grosbeak include:

Red Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra White-winged Crossbill 5 - Loxia leucoptera House Finch 1 - Haemorhous mexicanus Purple Finch - Haemorhous purpureus
Red Crossbill White-winged Crossbill House Finch Purple Finch

Conservation Status:

Numbers appear to be decreasing in the North American portion of their range, with Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count numbers both declining over the last 40 years. The species is also found in parts of Eurasia, where population trends are less well known. Overall though they are found over a very broad geographic area and are common in parts of their range.  The IUCN lists the Pine Grosbeak as a species of "least concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

January 15th, 2019 - Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Pine Grosbeak photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the range map below for a higher-resolution view 
Pine Grosbeak - Species Range Map
South Dakota Status: Irregular, rare visitor in winter, with sightings in locations from around the state.

Additional Pine Grosbeak Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Pine Grosbeak 1 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 2 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 3 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 4 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 5 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 6 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 7 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 8 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 9 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 10 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 11 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 12 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 13 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 14 - Pinicola enucleatorPine Grosbeak 15 - Pinicola enucleator