Pine grosbeaks are among my favorite Colorado birds. Though widespread throughout the mountains and higher foothills, these large, colorful finches are not often seen by the casual hiker. However, once encountered, pine grosbeaks are amiable birds, allowing close approach and observation.
Residents of open coniferous forests, from Alaska to northern New England and southward through the mountain corridors of the West, these hardy birds pair off during the breeding season but spend most of the year in sizable flocks, roaming about in search of favorable seed crops. Easily recognized by their large size, stocky build, long tail and undulating flight pattern, the adult males have rose-colored plumage while females and juveniles are mostly gray with olive or burnt orange patches on their head and tail (all have white bars on their black wings). Like many northern finches, pine grosbeaks are irruptive, wandering erratically during the winter months and may turn up almost anywhere across the northern half of the U.S., where they feed in deciduous woodlands as well.
Here in Colorado, pine grosbeaks are best found in open forests of pine, fir and spruce, from the higher foothills to timberline. One wonders how their welfare and distribution will be affected by the extensive pine beetle blight that has decimated northern and central regions of our mountainous terrain.