breeding with the pine gross beak (new birds in the 2006 season)

breeding with the pine gross beak (2007)


The pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) is a little bit larger than the starling. The male bird is red colored and has brownish wings and tail. On the wings they have two white bands. The singing is quite melodic. The red color for the male bird is replaced by olive green. The bird lies in Northern Scandinavia, mid-Siberia and Northern America. Some times it can be spotted as a vagrant in the Netherlands, especially in the Northern provinces

The grosbeak has always been a fascinating bird for me. When I watched them at other bird breeders they have always been very friendly birds, who immediately came to the front when you approach the aviary. They are very nosy and keep an eye on you when you are around. To prepare for the 2006 breeding season, I have done a literature search and a summary is below:

The male and female are placed together already in winter. When you do this too late it can result in infertile eggs. Feed in nature: In the wild, the grosbeak feeds on small insects (mosquito’s) berries (blueberries, rowans, raspberries, rose hips) with the young needles and buds of conifers. In all described here there is carotene. During the breeding season, the birds have a preference for non carotene containing seeds such as sunflower and hemp

Be careful how much you feed otherwise the birds become too fat. It is important to give a large variety of different seeds. The egg feed you start to give already in the winter. To make it a little bit more attractive you can put some crushed hemp under it. To provide animal protein, (deep frozen) buffalo worms and meal worms are fine.

During winter time the egg feed is given three times a week. One coffee spoon per bird. When the chicks grow, gradually replace the insects by germinated seed. Also fresh fruit such as apple can be given. To have a successful season it is important to have a large breeding aviary with plenty of rods or branches to prevent the chicks sitting on the nest all day when the second round is in progress. I will use the same nesting as I have used previously for my cross bills.

The eggs are laid late morning around 10 am. They are quite big, so it is essential to provide sufficient calcium. Sepia is indispensable. The number of eggs is between 3-5 and they are incubated for 14 days. The cock feeds the hen on the nest. When the eggs hatch, the hen eats the shells with exception of the last egg these shells are removed from the nest. The chicks are covered with grayish down and will be fed immediately after they have come out. It might be that the hen will become quite aggressive to the cock. If this happens the cock needs to be removed.

The rings are put after 6 days. The size is 3.5 mm. Nest inspection is necessary to ensure that the chicks have not been thrown out of the nest. After about 18 days the chicks leave the nest. Make sure that at the bottom of the aviary there are rods or branches. The chicks will not be fed by the parents when they are sitting on the floor.

When the next round hatches, it is time to remove the chicks. It is useful to give a preventative medication against parasites. I will give 2 days Baycox at a concentration of 2 ml /liter. On the 2nd of December I have picked up the birds at a friend. They are birds of 2003 and have raised already quite a lot of offspring. Although this is a good starting point, there is no guarantee for a successful breeding. Birds behaviour cannot be easily predicted. The grosbeaks are accommodated in a breeding aviary of 2x1x2 m (lwh)


For the grossbeaks, I use a common bullfinch seed mix to which a cuple of additional seeds are added:

5 volume parts bullfinch seed mix Jos Dircks
1/2 volume part Aleppo (kind of pine tree seed)
1/2 volume part Scots pine tree seeds
1/2 volume part Rowan berries

During winter time like all other birds I provide egg feed a couple of times a week. When the breeding season start I increase this to every day. A composition of my egg feed can be found elsewhere on this website.

Breeding with the pine gross beak 2006 (report updated 29th of May)

It is known that Pine grosbeaks male and female can be quite aggressive, especially during the breeding season. The couple I have is together already for quite some years. Even though the previous owner told me that sometimes they could stand each other perfectly well and at other times there were problems. Sometimes the hen was the cause of this, sometimes the cock. When I got the birds, it was already late in the evening and I was forced to keep them separated for one day in two small cages. When I brought them together again in the aviary immediately they started to scrimmage, while before they could get along with each other very well. Happily this was only threatening each other and no real fights occurred. This lasted a couple of days and then everything was back to normal. The birds I have do not show the right colours. For a number of reasons the hen got some colourant during the moult and the cock did not. The cock has a yellowish/olive colour and the hen show a bit of red. Of course this is not a problem for the breeding. Early spring the male starts to sing on and off. First a couple of minutes a day, later much longer. The song starts with a loud sri sri and then followed by a green finch like song. As a song it is not very impressive. The cock always sing and the front of the aviary. Maybe this is characteristic behaviour to reach a large territory. The birds also lose some small feathers. The hen gets a little bit thin on the head and also the cock seems to be a bit moulty. Mid April I already provided nests, which I had dressed with small conifer twigs. One is a so-called bowl nest, the other is the same nest I used in the past for crossbills. Conifer twig are completely ruined within a day. First they remove the green parts, then they break down the larger twigs into smaller parts. Also they try to pluck out the coconest. Still there are no advances and the birds do not feed each other. A couple of times a day they chase after each other, but this does not end up in a real fight. The cock and the hen are always on separate rods. When the male bird flies to the other rod, the hen flies to the other one. This continues for hours. Both birds, but especially the cock look larger. Sometimes the male raises up its feathers. The hen also has now regularly a couple of conifer twig in her beak. She drops them in the nest and then again takes them up again. In the third week of May, I notice that the hen presents herself to the cock. She sit on a rod with twigs in her beak with the tail up. The cock does not seem to be impressed by this and also sings less frequently. I fear that this is an indication that everything is not ok. On the 20th of May I have to go abroad for a couple of days. And because my wife is also not here, my daughter takes care of the birds. This is not an easy job as the bullfinches, bearded tits have chicks. When I have her on the phone she tells that the gross beak is sitting on the nest the whole day. I fear that this would be an infertile nest. When I come back on the 26th of May there are 4 eggs and I find them very big compared to the bullfinch eggs I am used to. I immediately check the eggs. The first egg I checks is infertile and I do not have a lot of hope for the remaining 3. Beyond expectations, the 3 remaining eggs are ok. Although there is still a long way to go, are we on the right track. It is remarkable that the nest where there was a lot of activity finally has not been chosen to breed. The eggs have been laid in the coco nest without dress. The hen is incubating the eggs very well. Occasionally she leaves the nest for some food and to relief herself.

Today the first egg hatched. Because I left the eggs in the nest, I expect the second one tomorrow and the last one the day after tomorrow. So far so good the cock as well as the hen behave well. Now and then the hen leaves the nest and occasionally is fed by the cock. I provide meal worm and pinky's which I put under the egg feed. I also leave the seeds.

9th June. Unfortunately it did not work out as it should. Yesterday the cock was sitting ducked away in a corner of the aviary. It looked as though there had been quite a fight. The hen did not allow him to sit on a rod and was chased back to the bottom of the aviary when he tried. Patiently waiting until the aggression was over. I considered putting him in a cage, but since I was at home all day, I could observe them well and decided to leave him for the time being. What was more worrying was the fact that the he did not look after the chick anymore. It stopped also feeding. When I had my last round in the night I noticed that the hen was not on the nest. It was too dark to do something, so this would mean the death of the chick during the night. The next day I got up at 6 am The cock was still ducked away on the ground. I removed the chick from the nest along with the three remaining eggs. When I had the chick in my hand for a while I noticed there was still a little bit of live. After I had place the chick under the infra red lamp, it also started to beg. I gave some moistened egg feed which I administered through a syringe. The chick was only three days old and the changes of survival and raising it by hand are not that great, but I still did not want to kill it. The next day it was still alive and I give egg feed every two hours. We just have to wait.

The chick has lived four days. It took the food, but did not grow. I tried to feed with squeezed mealworms mixed with egg feed. It is difficult to raise seed eating bird by hand. I was never successful. Maybe it is better not to try at all.

After one week the hen has laid five eggs again. Three were fertile and the incubation went well. However, after exactly a week she frequently left the nest and started to chase the cock again. There were no real fights, but the hen had something completely different on her mind than incubating the eggs. I watched this for a couple of hours and then decided to put the cock in a cage inside the aviary. Unfortunately the hen did not return to the nest.

report updated July 14th

Again the grosbills seek each others company now and then and after a couple of days the hen sit lays the first egg. I intend to separate them when she sits steady on the nest. It worked out differently. On Saturday morning when I visit the aviary everything is still fine, but when I come a few hours later. There is a massive amount of feathers on the floor and the cock is sitting in a corner on the floor. The whole left part of the head is almost bold and the eye is closed. I really fear that is has been picked out. Happily that was not the case, but I think it could have been the end of the cock. I quickly move the cock to a separate cage inside the aviary and after a while he seems to recover. The eye was undamaged, but that was more luck than anything else. The hen returns to the nest and lays another three eggs. When I check them three were fertile. Apparently the cock was able to “deliver” before the domestic violence ended their relationship. With cock separated, the hen seems to be a bit quieter than before and the incubation goes well. This was too optimistic though. A week after the hen started to incubate the eggs, there was a terrible thunderstorm right above our house. When I get out around 7 am the hen is no longer on the nest and during the day she does not return anymore. Apparently the thunder and lightning chased her off the nest and discontinued the process. Time is running out fast for a last round. I have removed the eggs, but I do not dare to let the cock free unattended after what happened last time. This will be done in the weekend but it will definitely be the last attempt.

Not a succesful year for the gross beaks. The fact that this couple was quite succesful at the previous owner, really pisses me off a bit, but there will be a new season next year.

Breeding with the pine gross beak 2007

The breeding season is becoming quite weird. The first round with the pine grosbeak was not a great success. I have one pair that has been together throughout the year. Pine grosbeaks are difficult species. At first glance you can hardly notice that they form a couple. They leave each other completely alone. I really did under estimate this last year. The indifferent behaviour all of a sudden changed in mere hate towards each other and resulted in a terrible fight. This happened in the early morning so I did not have a change to interfere. When I arrived at 8 am at the aviary, the cock was sitting in a corner and was completely stressed. Also the eye was damaged quite severely. At first it healed, but later the bird died of blood poisoning despite of the antibiotic that I administered. During 2006 I acquired new birds and started the season with a couple of 2006. The breeding season start late for the pine grosbeak. When I was abroad end May, the hen had laid eggs, but these were removed from the nest by the cock. I was not there to anticipate on this. When the second round started I put the male in a large cage inside the breeding box after the first egg. Everything went well, but suddenly the hen died after the 3rd egg, while she was looking very healthy the day before. No idea what the cause could be. I have put the three eggs under a bullfinch couple that had infertile eggs. All three contained an embryo, but two died off inside the egg. When the egg hatched the bullfinches took good care of the chick and the bird was well fed. When I am writing this I was quite hopeful, but most people do not have good experience with pine grosbeaks under foster parents. This fear came true, because after 5 days I found the chick dead in the nest. The crop was full which is odd. The day before I thought that it had a bit of difficulty to breathe and I guess it was a lung infection that finally killed it.

I still had a spare hen, the terminator bird of last year and although all breeders will tell you that a couple needs to be together the whole year to have a success, I decided to try to couple this hen to the widower. It was indeed a good decision. After a few days I saw the new couple mating and there was no sign of hostility.

Again after the first egg, I separated the couple. In total there were four eggs, but I found one egg on the ground. I guessed it hung on to the paw when she left the nest, because there was no indication that she had deliberately removed it. On June 17th two eggs hatched. The male is still in a cage inside the box. I have decided to leave it here, because this is probably the last round and I do not want to take a change.

On July 1st, two healthy chicks left the nest. A friend advised me to put some branches on the floor as it is known that chicks do not like to be fed while being on the ground.

two chicks about 15 days old