Ron Pittaway’s annual winter finch forecast has been out for awhile so I may as well let the cat out of the bag. First a couple comments. When birders speak of “winter finches” the bag is somewhat bigger than just the technical finches. It includes all those northern invaders we look for in winter such as bohemian waxwing and red-breasted nuthatch. Also, he writes with an emphasis on Ontario so some of the information may not translate fully the farther west you go. Still, he maintains a high degree of accuracy and so is looked to for accurate predictions. To the nitty-gritty:
If you are looking for redpolls–both common and hoary–you are in luck. He says they should be here:
Redpolls in winter are a birch seed specialist and movements are linked in part to the size of the birch crop. The white birch crop is poor across much of northern Canada. Another indicator of an upcoming irruption was a good redpoll breeding season in 2010 with double and possibly triple broods reported in Quebec. High breeding success also was reported in Yukon.
Pine grosbeaks? Not so much:
Most Pine Grosbeaks should stay in the north this winter because the mountain-ash berry crop is generally excellent across the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska, except for a poor crop in Newfoundland.
Purple finches? Good news. In fact I’ve seen a few small flocks already:
Most Purple Finches will migrate south of Ontario this fall.
Red and white-winged crossbills? Sounds like a roll of the dice: Look for reds in pine trees (rarely spruce). White-winged:
High numbers of White-winged Crossbills are currently concentrated in southern Yukon where the white spruce cone crop is bumper. These may remain there this winter…Some may disperse southward as spruce seeds run low and could appear in southern Ontario and northern United States. However, they will be rare or absent this winter in traditional areas…where spruce and hemlock cone crops are very poor.
Evening grosbeak: Well, their overall population remains very low, says Pittaway, due to the lack of spruce budworm outbreaks since the 1980s. Good luck finding one of these. Let me know if you do, however, I’ve never seen one in North Dakota.
Pine siskins: I had the first one of the year at my feeder just this morning. Ron says:
Siskins show a tendency for north-south migration, but are better considered an opportunistic nomad…They were uncommon this past summer in Ontario and the Northeast. Some might winter in northern Ontario where the white spruce crop is heavy.
Bad news for you bohemian waxwing fans:
Most Bohemians Waxwings will stay close to the boreal forest this winter because mountain-ash berry crops are excellent across Canada, except in Newfoundland.
There you have it, Ron Pittaway’s take on the coming months. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and even more exceptions to educated guesses. Still, this should give you a fair assessment of what to expect this winter.
To read the forecast in full, click here.