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Winter Bird Irruptions

According to the predictions on eBird’s annual Winter Finch Forecast, several species of northern seed-eating birds will be moving south this season due to a poor cone crop in the north.  As of mid-October, pine siskins (pictured), purple finches, red-breasted nuthatches and red crossbills have already been showing up in larger numbers than usual in New England, well south of their normal wintering grounds.  This type of movement is referred to as an irruption.  Because of a widespread crop failure of fruiting and cone-bearing trees in Canada, we may be lucky enough to have a glimpse of crossbills, redpolls, pine grosbeaks and evening grosbeaks this winter.   The latest to arrive at my feeders are pine siskins, whose irruptions often occur on a two-year cycle.  Their numbers in New England were great during the winters of 2008 and 2010, so the pine siskin irruption this year is right on time.

7 responses

  1. Why was the cone crop so poor in Canada this year?

    October 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    • Hi Julie,
      I believe a given year’s cone crop production is influenced by temperatures and rainfall both the previous summer, as well as during the summer before that.

      October 15, 2012 at 1:24 pm

  2. Maynard Wheeler

    That explains it! Pine siskins are cleaning out my feeders daily.

    October 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm

  3. Susan in NH

    I have some increasing numbers of purple finches and juncos here. And many more than usual nuthatches, both kinds. Will look forward to the evening grosbeaks! Havnt seen many of those for years. Thanks Mary!

    October 15, 2012 at 1:04 pm

  4. George in Wentworth

    I have as many as 70 of these at a time at my feeders here in Wentworth, NH. I’m having to fill the feeders daily with black oil sunflower seeds. They are cute little birds though. I can sit quietly on the ground below my feeders and have as many as 50 of them around me, some of them just inches away. If this keeps up all winter, I’m going to have to triple the bird feeding budget.

    October 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm

  5. Kathryn Connell

    Years ago we had pine siskins through our area. They were so unafraid. I had several of them land on my hand for food.

    October 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

  6. Kathie Fiveash

    Amazing! The very day you posted, pine siskins turned up at my feeder. I live on a remote Maine island. I guess they were waiting for you to talk about them before they arrived.

    October 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm

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