Every year Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (http://www.jeaniron.ca/2013/forecast.htm) forecasts the extent to which birds in the Finch family are expected to inundate northern New England in the coming winter. This year’s forecast is not looking great for birders hoping to see influxes (irruptions) of northern seed-eating species such as pine siskins (pictured), crossbills, redpolls, grosbeaks and finches. The reason for the lack of inundations of feathered northern visitors this winter is that the Canadian crop of seeds that these birds eat is more than ample this year, making it unnecessary for most seed-eating birds to come further south seeking food. With the exception of white pine, there is an abundance of cone crops as well as birch, alder and mountain-ash seeds and fruits this year in the boreal forests of Ontario and southern Quebec. Although there will be some southern movement of these birds, this is not predicted to be an irruptive winter, which bodes well for seed-eating birds, but not so much for bird-seeking humans.
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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.