Things are looking up for those of us who look forward to winters when boreal finches come south in relatively large numbers in search of food. This is an irruption year for winter finches in the East due to the poor cone and birch seed production in northern Ontario and Quebec. Seed-eating birds such as finches, grosbeaks, redpolls and siskins will be frequenting our feeders.
Even at this early date, Evening Grosbeak sightings are up noticeably. Pine Grosbeaks will be taking advantage of good Mountain-ash berry and cone production in New England. Purple Finch numbers should also be healthy this winter. While Red Crossbills sightings may be scarce, White-winged Crossbills sightings may well be up due to the poor cone crops in the eastern boreal forest. Both Common and Hoary Redpolls should be numerous this winter due to poor crops of birch, alder and conifer seeds further north.
In addition to these finches, large numbers of Blue Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bohemian Waxwings are predicted due to poor nut, conifer seed and berry crops, respectively, further north. (Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast, 2018-2019, http://jeaniron.ca/2018/wff18.htm ) (Photo: Common Redpoll)
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Members of the Finch family (Fringillidae) from farther north have begun showing up at feeders and fruit trees, as was predicted. Pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, pine grosbeaks, common redpolls and even a few red crossbills have ventured down into southern New England in search of food. The latest arrivals in the Upper Valley (VT/NH) were pine grosbeaks (male pictured). The mountain-ash berry crop is spotty further north, so pine grosbeaks have come south in search of European mountain-ash trees as well as ornamental crabapples. Invasive buckthorn redeems itself somewhat by producing berries that pine grosbeaks also find appealing.
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.