Winter Finch Forecast 2016-2017

By Ron Pittaway
GENERAL FORECAST: Cone crops average poor in
Southern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, New York,
Vermont, and New Hampshire, but crops are generally good
to bumper in Northern Ontario, Western Canada, and Alaska.
The dividing line is roughly James Bay south along the
Ontario-Quebec border. White-winged Crossbills and often
Pine Siskins prefer to move east or west rather than go south
in search of cone crops. Many crossbills and some siskins
may have already relocated to northern Ontario and across
the boreal forest to Yukon where spruce cone crops are
abundant. Purple Finches in the East are currently moving
south in numbers. See individual forecasts for other finches
and further details.
NOTE: Many birds will have a difficult time finding natural
food sources this winter in Southern Ontario and the
Northeast.
INDIVIDUAL FORECASTS: Forecasts apply mainly to
Ontario and adjacent provinces and states. Three irruptive
non‐finch passerines whose movements are often linked to
finches are also discussed. Follow finch wanderings this fall
and winter on eBird.
PINE GROSBEAK: Most should stay in the north because
native Mountain-ash berry crops are good to bumper (some
poor areas) across the boreal forest. A few may wander to
southern Ontario where they like European Mountain-ash
berries and small ornamental crabapples. At feeders they
prefer black oil sunflower seeds.
PURPLE FINCH: Eastern Purple Finches were moving in
early September at the Observatoire d’oiseaux de Tadoussac
in Quebec. The poor seed crops on most coniferous and
deciduous trees indicate that Purple Finches will leave
northern breeding areas. Purples prefer black oil sunflower
seeds at feeders.

RED CROSSBILL: A scattering of Red Crossbills will likely
wander widely in the Northeast this winter. Listen and watch for
them on large-coned ornamental pines and spruces. Red
Crossbills comprise at least ten “call types” in North America.
Most types are impossible to identify without analyzing
recordings of their flight calls. Matt Young (may6 at cornell.edu)
at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will identify types if you
email him recordings.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: This crossbill irrupts south
only in years of widespread cone crop failures. Many eastern
crossbills have probably moved to northern Ontario and to
abundant spruce cone crops in western Canada. However, expect
some White-winged Crossbills to be scattered across southern
Canada and the northeastern US. Both crossbill species
increasingly use feeders with black oil sunflower seeds when
conifer seeds are scarce.
COMMON REDPOLL: Last fall and winter’s large irruptive
southward flight was unexpectedly halted north of latitude 45
degrees by a bumper seed crop on Balsam Fir. If redpolls move
south this year, they will likely continue to southern Canada and
the northern states because birch seed crops are generally low
across the northeast. In redpoll flocks, check for larger and
darker “Greater” Common Redpolls (subspecies rostrata) from
Baffin Island (Nunavut) and Greenland. Redpolls prefer nyger
seeds in silo feeders with or without perches.
HOARY REDPOLL: Watch for Hoaries in flocks of Common
Redpolls. The “Southern” Hoary Redpoll (nominate subspecies
exilipes) breeds south to northern Ontario and is the subspecies
usually seen in southern Canada and northern US. However,
“Hornemann’s” Hoary Redpoll (nominate hornemanni) which
was formerly considered a great rarity south of the tundra is now
reported more often likely because its ID features are better
known. See link #2 below for photos and identification marks of
Common and Hoary Redpoll subspecies.
PINE SISKIN: Some will irrupt south because cone crops in the
Northeast are generally poor. Siskins were moving south in mid-
September at the Observatoire d’oiseaux de Tadoussac in
Quebec. However, some eastern siskins have likely relocated to
abundant spruce crops in western Canada. Siskins prefer nyger
seeds in silo feeders. See link #4 which discusses siskin
irruptions related to climate variability.
EVENING GROSBEAK: The Evening Grosbeak is the
world’s most spectacular winter finch. Its breeding populations
continue to increase in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick
due to increasing outbreaks of spruce budworm. Watch for them
in Algonquin Park, Adirondacks, and northern New England. A
few are likely at feeders in southern Ontario where they prefer
black oil sunflower seeds.
THREE IRRUPTIVE PASSERINES: Movements of these
three passerines are often linked to the boreal finches.
BLUE JAY: Expect a much larger than usual flight of jays from
mid-September to mid-October along the north shorelines of
Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The acorn, beechnut, hazelnut crops
were generally poor but variable in central and southern Ontario.
Drought has damaged many seed crops.
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: An early southward
movement began in early summer and continues as this forecast
is posted. This widespread movement is evidence of poor cone
crops in the Northeast. It indicates that Purple Finches,
White-winged Crossbills, and Pine Siskins are on the move
too.
BOHEMIAN WAXWING: Very few Bohemians breed east
of James Bay in Canada. Most Bohemians will likely stay in
northern Ontario and western Canada because native
Mountain-ash berry crops are good to bumper (some poor
areas) across the boreal forest. In recent winters, however,
Bohemians have been coming south regularly every winter
possibly due to reliable annual crops of abundant Buckthorn
(Rhamnus) berries. Watch for Pine Grosbeaks eating their
favorite European Mountain‐ash berries and small
ornamental crabapples.
WHERE TO SEE FINCHES: Algonquin Park is an
exciting winter experience about a 3.5 hour drive north of
Toronto. Most cone crops are poor (good on White Cedar) in
the park so crossbills and siskins will be very scarce or absent.
However, feeders at the Visitor Centre (km 43) should attract
Common Redpolls (watch for Hoaries), Evening and Pine
Grosbeaks. The Visitor Centre and restaurant are open
weekends in winter. On winter weekdays, the facility is open,
but with limited services (no restaurant, but snacks and drinks
are available for purchase). Birders can call ahead to make
arrangements to view feeders on weekdays by phoning 613-
637-2828. The bookstore has one of the best selections of
natural history books anywhere. Be sure to get Birds of
Algonquin Park (2012) by retired park naturalist Ron Tozer.
It is one of the finest regional bird books ever published. The
nearby Spruce Bog Trail at km 42.5 and Opeongo Road at
km 44.5 are the best spots for finches and other species such
as Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse, and Blackbacked
Woodpecker.
FINCH INFORMATION LINKS:
#1. Finch Facts, Seed Crops and Irruptions
http://www.jeaniron.ca/2012/winterfinches.htm
#2. Subspecies of Common and Hoary Redpolls – ID Tips
and Photos
http://www.jeaniron.ca/2015/redpollsRP.htm
#3. Interview with Ron Pittaway in OFO News 34(1):1-3,
2016
http://jeaniron.ca/articles/FinchForecasterFe2016.pdf
#4. Climatic dipoles drive two principal modes of North
American boreal bird irruption
http://bit.ly/1UrmTsI
Ron Pittaway
Ontario Field Ornithologists
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
22 September 2016