Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
This Winter’s Finch Forecast Looks Promising
October 21, 2022
By Steve Grinley
With temperatures dropping, this is the time of year when I remind you to ready your bird feeders for the winter ahead, which I may do again next week. To further motivate you to take on the task, I am sharing with you this years annual winter finch forecast, written by Tyler Hoar, put out each year by the Finch Research Network, and is based on available natural food supplies. It looks promising for eastern New Englanders to enjoy many northern finch species to our feeders and surrounding areas. I have abbreviated it to focus primarily on our area.
“In eastern North America, there is a good food crop along the coastal areas of Maritime Provinces southward into New England, which should hold many finches this winter.
PINE GROSBEAK: From western Lake Superior eastward the native mountain-ash berry crops are poor to below average, with areas of above-average crops along the Atlantic coast. Traditional areas in the upper Midwest states eastward to New England and the Maritime Provinces should see movements of Pine Grosbeaks. Flocks of hungry grosbeaks searching for fruiting ornamental trees and well-stocked feeders with black oil sunflower seeds may be seen in urban areas.
PURPLE FINCH: Many Purple Finches will migrate south from Eastern Canada this winter. Early movement of this species southward has been occurring for weeks. With several large Spruce Budworm outbreaks in the eastern boreal forest, the Purple Finches appear to benefit from an abundant food source during the breeding season. The ash crop is good in many areas of the northeast…but look for them to be most common south of the eastern boreal and northern tier states. [Purple Finch prefer well stocked black-oil sunflower feeders.]
COMMON AND HOARY REDPOLLS: There appears to be no bumper birch crop in North America this winter. White and Yellow Birch crop is very poor to poor throughout most of the boreal and southern Canadian forests. The Alder crop across the boreal forest is average. There is a potential for a moderate to a good flight south out of the boreal forest. Watch for redpolls on birches, in weedy fields and at bird feeders offering nyger and black oil sunflower seeds. Watch for Hoaries in flocks of Common Redpolls.
PINE SISKIN: In the eastern boreal forest, there are extensive pockets of heavy Eastern White Cedar crops which should hold small numbers of siskins this winter. However, most of the siskins remaining in the east this fall should move southward in search of food. At feeders, they prefer nyger seeds in silo feeders.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: Throughout the boreal forest from Lake Superior, eastward spruce crops are mostly poor, with areas of patchy fair crops and widespread poor Tamarack crops. Later in winter, crossbills might start wandering as crops are depleted, and any cones, even old cones, should be watched for crossbills and siskins.
RED CROSSBILL: Red Crossbills are currently quite common in eastern Massachusetts, along the coast of Maine and the southern Maritime Provinces…These areas are where the Northeastern Crossbill “eastern Type 10” is most common from year to year, and this year is no different, with the heavy red spruce crop along the coast and localized heavy eastern white pine crop driving the majority of the current distribution. In short, this crossbill will be around this winter. [Look for crossbills at sunflower feeders.]
EVENING GROSBEAK: This stocky charismatic finch appears to be on the move this winter. Its breeding population appears to be increasing in Eastern Canada due to increasing outbreaks of spruce budworm with large outbreaks in Northeastern Ontario and Quebec. Expect flights of Evening Grosbeaks into border states this fall. If this species repeats the large, fast-moving, long-distance flights seen in late October 2020, some birds could be expected to go farther south into the United States than usual. At large platform feeders, they prefer black oil sunflower seeds. Evening Grosbeaks will look for maple and ash trees holding seed away from feeders.
THREE IRRUPTIVE PASSERINES
Movements of these three passerines are often linked to the boreal finches.
BLUE JAY: This will be a good to strong flight year. Beechnut and hazelnut crops are poor. The acorn crop is generally poor but with pockets of good crops scattered from Manitoba eastward through southern Canada and northeastern states southward to Pennsylvania.
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: This species has been irrupting south since July and continues as this forecast is written. With mostly poor cone crops in the eastern boreal forest, expect this species to continue to move southward. This species prefers black oil seeds, suet, and peanuts at feeders.
BOHEMIAN WAXWING: In the eastern boreal forest, the native mountain-ash berry crops are poor to below average, and other berry crops range from fair to good. Look for this species in northern New England and Great Lake states. As winter progresses and food resources dwindle, flocks may be seen further south of these traditional areas. Bohemians coming south to forage will visit reliable annual crops of abundant Buckthorn (Rhamnus) berries and urban areas containing planted European Mountain-ash berries and ornamental crabapples.”
For more information on the Finch Research Network go to https://finchnetwork.org .