Forecast: Partly sunny

Posted October 20th, 2010 by kcorliss. Comments (7).

female purple finch

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.

bohemian waxwings

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.

7 Responses to “Forecast: Partly sunny”

  1. Daryl Ritchison

    I have never considered red-breasted nuthatches a northern invader. I have some in my neighborhood all year around and even growing up in southern Minnesota, we would see one in all months.

    I’ve also have started to see Pine Siskins on my feeders.

    My hunch is we may do better than expected this winter because of the weather. Could be a brutally cold one in Canada which may force a few more birds to venture south.

  2. kcorliss

    Red-breasted nuthatch is a conifer specialist making the boreal forest and Rocky Mountains its home, as well as the northern US border with appropriate habitat. You may very well have small numbers of birds outside that range if you have cone-bearing trees around. But in terms of numbers (I saw 14 in a spruce grove in Cass County last weekend), they are not exceedingly common during the breeding season around here. They have been considered “northern” birds and thus, invasive “finches” if you will, for quite some time.

    Weather may indeed play a role in bird movements. But I suspect the overarching factor remains food. It would be fair to hypothesize a combination of the these two elements may close to the ultimate answer.

    Thanks Daryl,

  3. Andrea

    Chickadees aren’t particularly rare or exciting, but I wonder if it is also an irruption year for them. I work at a banding station, and we are seeing extraordinarily large numbers of chickadees. Normally in the fall, we average 150-300 bands. Yesterday, we banded over 200 (and let perhaps 100 go unbanded) and we banded almost 400 today.

  4. kcorliss

    Weird Andrea. I guess I’ve never heard nor considered chickadees to me in the category of migratory species. Some fall/winter displacement likely takes place but your numbers are surprising. I’ll do a little checking with my sources and see what I can find. Very curious indeed. BTW, where is the station, Buffalo River?

  5. kcorliss

    Hey Andrea,
    I found the following sentence at All Points North magazine out of Plattsburg, NY:

    “According to Janet Mihuc, assistant professor in the Division of Natural Resources, Sciences and Liberal Arts (NRSLA) at Paul Smith’s College, chickadee’s migrate when there is a food shortage.”

    You may very well be witnessing the result of such a shortage if indeed the above statement is true. Very cool.

  6. kcorliss

    Did I mention there are exceptions to every rule? Just yesterday someone found a bohemian waxwing in Minot. Maybe we’ll get some here in Fargo…

  7. Andrea

    I did a little investigating as well, and it seems that there are occasionally large post-natal dispersals of chickadees. This correlates with our data – almost all of our captures are hatch year birds. Furthermore, these birds are not staying in our area as we are recapturing almost none of them.

    I volunteer at a station in upstate New York (although I was born and raised in Fargo, which is how I came to follow your blog). You can see our daily tallies, as well as information from past years at .