Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Winter Finch Forecast Released
September 29, 2012
By Steve Grinley

     Every year, Ron Pittaway from Ontario, Canada publishes a Winter Finch Forecast based on information gathered across eastern Canada and northern New York and New England. Tree seed and fruit crops are monitored across this region to try to determine if the natural food source can sustain the population of winter finches, and several other non-finch species throughout the winter. Winters with low seed or fruit crops create an “irruption” of certain species, that depend on each particular food source, to western Canada and to areas further south, such as into our area in southern New England. It helps tell us if we can expect to see some of these boreal birds in the field, or at bird feeders, each winter.

     In this winter’s forecast for 2012-2013, Ron reports a widespread failure of tree seeds and fruit across the Northeast forests, forcing most finches to search elsewhere for food. Many will wander into our area. This could provide an opportunity for those who put out bird feeders to host these birds in their backyards.

     Of the three non-finch species that Ron addresses, red-breasted nuthatches have been moving south into our area and beyond since mid-summer due to the failure of cone crops. They are in the pines on Plum Island and they were everywhere that we visited on outer Cape Cod a week ago. Customers have reported them at their suet and sunflower feeders. The red-breasted nuthatch is smaller and darker blue on the back compared to its white-breasted cousin. It also has deeper red on the sides and breast, but it creeps up and down tree trunks like its more familiar cousin.

     With the acorn crops doing better in the northeast this year, blue jays are becoming more plentiful again around here. After an absence of blue jays last winter, we should see many more this year and many should visit your sunflower feeders this winter.

     The other non-finch species addressed in the report is the Bohemian waxwing. The drought produced fruit with little moisture content in central and eastern Canada, so we may have the opportunity to see more of these birds mixed in with flocks robins and cedar waxwings on crabapples, honeysuckle, and other fruit bearing trees and shrubs in our area. We had a good irruption several years ago, so we are hoping for another.

     Getting back to the finches, pine grosbeaks are also expected to wander into our area this winter and may also be found on fruit bearing tree and shrubs. These pinkish grosbeaks (yellowish females) may also visit sunflower feeders, as might the beautiful evening grosbeaks. The latter use to be more common in the winter here when their stunning black, gold and white plumage would put us in awe as they cleaned out a tray of sunflower in no time! They may be visiting feeders this coming winter, so be prepared!

     Red and white-winged crossbills and purple finches will be moving due to cone crop failures up north. We usually see them in the pines at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation or on the Parker River Wildlife Refuge in years that appear in Massachusetts. These birds also will visit sunflower feeders.

     We may also see more pine siskins this year due to cone crop failures. Redpolls and Hoary redpolls may also move into our area due to white birch seed crops failing up north. We will watch the fields and birches in our area for these birds, but these birds will visit feeders. They like sunflower, but prefer Nyger or thistle.

     So the bottom line is that we have a good opportunity to see some northern birds in our area this winter that we don’t normally get to see. It also means that it is time to get our feeders ready and running for the fall and winter season. It is predicted to be a great winter for backyard feeder watching!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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