Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria 黑尾蠟嘴雀

Category I. Uncommon winter visitor, scarce passage migrant, rare in winter and summer; occurs in open woodland where there are fruiting trees.


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Feb. 2014, Michelle and Peter Wong. Male.

15-18 cm. Large finch with large dark-tipped deeply-based yellow bill and substantial fork in tail. Male has black on head that extends over most of throat, whole ear coverts and rear of crown. Hind neck and rump are pearly grey, mantle and scapulars are contrasting grey-brown, wing coverts and tail feathers are deep metallic blue, tips to the primaries are broadly white and the lower flanks are orange-buff.

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Feb. 2014, Michelle and Peter Wong. Female.

Female has dark lores, plain grey-brown head, slightly paler and browner mantle and scapulars, olive-brown rump, darkly-tipped greyish tail and tertials and narrowly white-fringed primaries.


The call, uttered either in flight or when perched, is a moderately high-pitched single or double-note ‘chek’ or ‘chup’. This differs from Japanese Grosbeak in being slightly thinner and higher in pitch. Also, a shrike-like rather nasal ‘chay’.

The song is a modulated and fairly rich whistled refrain. Compared to Japanese Grosbeak it often begins with one or two harsher short notes and may contain a further harsh note in each strophe, which are generally slightly longer and less pure in tone.

Due to the popularity of this species in the bird trade, links to vocalisations are not provided by Xeno-canto.


Generally occurs in flocks or small parties in orchards, fung shui woods or small groups of trees on the edges of agricultural areas. Consequently, most records are from rural areas of the New Territories, with relatively few from HK Island and urban Kowloon. There are also relatively few records from the islands, including Lantau.

There are a number of spring records at sites such as Cheung Chau, Ho Man Tin and Po Toi, where winter records are rare, indicating the occurrence of passage migrants.


Chinese Grosbeak is generally present from November to mid-April with highest numbers occurring from the second week of December to the first week of March (Figure 1).

Some passage appears to occur in the first half of October, and also mid-November to mid-December. The wintering population appears to be relatively stable from the second week of December to the first week of March, with highest numbers recorded from the third week of January to the first week of February.

The second week of March sees a sharp fall in numbers indicating departure from HK. Records on the migrant site of Po Toi have occurred from 12 April to 15 May (though mostly by 3 May), indicating passage migrants occur at this time.

Although recorded in all weekly periods from the last week of April to the last week of September it is rare in the summer months. Carey et al. (2001) regarded observations from mid-May to August as relating to ex-captive birds and provided extreme dates of 26 April and 17 September. However, the annual occurrence of small numbers in the summer months since then, including proven breeding (see below), indicates that this was probably too conservative an assessment.

The highest count is 130 in a roost at Island House, Tai Po on 30 December 1988, while the highest since 1999 is 86 at Sha Po on 16 February 2003. There is some suggestion that the wintering population is somewhat lower than it was.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak was not recorded in HK by Swinhoe (1861), though he considered it to be common in Guangzhou. Kershaw (1904) stated that it was uncommon, though this relates to the Pearl River delta region in general. However, Vaughan and Jones (1913) found it to be regular but not abundant in HK between January and March. Herklots (1953) documented flocks of up to 30 birds in most winters from 1934 to 1941 and 1948-49, with sightings falling between mid-December and the third week of April.


Allcock (2009) details the first instance of proven breeding in HK. On 17 May 2003 a nest with five eggs located 2m above the ground in a Sapium sebiferum tree was discovered. It was made of loosely-woven dead grass and human litter, and the eggs were pale blue heavily marked with irregular dark markings toward the broader end. The female was still present on 29 May, but not subsequently. Later three cold eggs and one dead chick were observed in the nest. In addition, another pair was possibly in the area. Subsequently, two nesting pairs were present at nearby Sha Po in 2004. This is probably the most southerly location that Chinese Grosbeak has been recorded breeding.


Often occurs in pairs or in small flocks. Despite its size, not particularly easy to observe in the foliage of trees. Roosts communally at night in fixed locations for a period of time.

Feeds on fruit and seeds both in trees and on the ground. There are several observations of birds feeding on the seeds of Chinese Hackberry Celtis sinensis and eucalypts; in addition, they have been consuming leaf buds of the exotic Flame of the Forest Delonix regia, the unripe green cones of California Cypress Cupressus goveniana (Melville 1993) and the buds of or insects on River Tamarind Leucaena leucocephala.


Breeds in southeast Siberia, the Korean Peninsula and in northeast and east and south China, though is scarce in coastal provinces at this time; winters in southern Japan, east and south China and north Indochina (Birding Beijing 2022, Clement 2020, Liu and Chen 2020).

Two subspecies are recognised: the nominate breeds in mainland northeast Asia while sowerbyi breeds in China south of the Yangtze floodplain but largely north of the coastal provinces. Although Cheng (1987) states sowerbyi is largely resident and that birds in winter in Guangdong are migratoria, the differences between the two taxa are minor and no birds from HK have been critically examined.


IUCN: Least Concern. Population trend stable.

Figure 1.

Allcock, J. A. (2009). Nesting of Yellow-billed Grosbeaks Eophona migratoria at Kam Tin in 2003: the first breeding record for Hong Kong. Hong Kong Bird Report 2003-04: 228-230.

Birding Beijing (2022). (Accessed 16 June 2022).

Clement, P. (2020). Yellow-billed Grosbeak (Eophona migratoria), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Herklots, G. A. C. (1953). Hong Kong Birds. South China Morning Post, Hong Kong.

Kershaw, J. C. (1904). List of birds of the Quangtung Coast, China. Ibis 1904: 235-248.

Liu, Y. and Y. H. Chen (eds) (2020). The CNG Field Guide to the Birds of China (in Chinese). Hunan Science and Technology Publication House, Changsha.

Melville, D. S. (1993). Notes on the feeding of Black-tailed Hawfinch. Hong Kong Bird Report 1992: 193.

Swinhoe, R. (1861). Notes on the ornithology of Hong Kong, Macao and Canton, made during the latter end of February, March, April and the beginning of May 1860. Ibis 1861: 23-57.

Vaughan, R. E. and K. H. Jones (1913). The birds of Hong Kong, Macao and the West River or Si Kiang in South-East China, with special reference to their nidification and seasonal movements. Ibis 1913: 17-76, 163-201, 351-384.

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