For the Birds Radio Program: Pine Grosbeak

Original Air Date: Dec. 22, 1999 (estimated date) Rerun Dates: Dec. 15, 2008; Nov. 23, 2007; Dec. 19, 2006; Feb. 9, 2005; Dec. 29, 2004; Dec. 3, 2003; Dec. 27, 2002

When a Pine Grosbeak hit a listener’s window, Laura told her what to do; she explains why this is one of her favorite birds.

Duration: 3′33″


I recently got a phone call from a friend who’d had a Pine Grosbeak bonk into her picture window. The bird crumpled and just lay in the snow so she brought it in , put it in a box, and called me. I told her to take the box out periodically and open it to see if the bird was okay and could fly away. Sure enough, the first time she tried it, she put the bird on her hand and it sat there for several minutes, looking at her.

When a Pine Grosbeak looks into your eyes, there’s a magical moment of connection, and she was utterly delighted , but as the moments accumulated and she started shivering, she started wishing he’d take off already. And finally he did, flying strong, and she went into the house , colder on the outside, but warmer somehow within, thanks to that lovely bird and its confiding ways.

There’s something about Pine Grosbeaks that makes it a red-letter day when you get them at your feeder, even in a winter when they appear every day. Perhaps it’s their soft reddish pink plumage, or their gentle ways–they’re easily spooked by the more aggressive Evening Grosbeaks, and shy away quickly when other birds appear at a feeder. They used to show up on Peabody Street regularly in winter, but I haven’t seen one here in 5 or 6 years now. My mother­ in-law has a small flock visiting her in Port Wing this winter. It’s lovely seeing them at her feeder, and hearing their rich warbles. It reminds me of the day decades ago now when I saw my first one–it was December 3, 1977. A bird was calling from a woods in Madison , Wisconsin. I whistled back to it, and though its call was closer to a rich warble than a whistle, it responded and flew closer to me as I walked closer to the woods where it was. Finally, we saw each other.

I was happy enough to actually see the bird-a brand new one for my lifelist, but since it continued to call to me, I continued to answer, and tree by tree it came closer until it was looking into my eyes from just 6 or 8 feet away. I was stunned, my heart pounding with joy and a weird feeling of magic. It must have been magic that made me take off my warn, glove and reach my hand up, and it was definitely magic when suddenly the bird dropped down and lighted on my finger and gazed into my eyes, still calling. I whistled hack a couple of times, and we stared at one another for seconds or minutes–I have no idea at all how long it was–and then the bird flew to a nearby branch, called to me a few more times, and retreated back into the woods. So much human effort and imagination is devoted to wondering about whether there is intelligent life millions and millions of miles away while ignoring signs of it far closer to home .