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
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
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 10 “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
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 USA. 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.
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 USA. 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
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
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.
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 Black-backed Woodpecker.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank staff
of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and the
many birders/naturalists whose tree seed reports allow me to make
annual forecasts: Alexandre Anctil (Chibougamau, Quebec), Christian
Artuso (Manitoba), Dennis Barry (Durham Region and Kawartha Lakes),
Angus Baptiste (Grand lac Victoria, Quebec), Eleanor Beagan (Prince
Edward Island), Peter Burke, (Georgian Bay, Ontario), Joan Collins
(Adirondacks and northern New York State), Pascal Cote (Observatoire
d'oiseaux de Tadoussac, Quebec), Bruce Di Labio (Eastern Ontario),
Charity Dobbs (Ontario Tree Seed Plant), Carolle Eady (Dryden,
Ontario), Cameron Eckert (Southern Yukon), Dave Elder (Atikokan,
Ontario), Bruce Falls (Brodie Club, Toronto), Walter Fisher (Rosetta
McClain Gardens Raptor Watch, Toronto), Marcel Gahbauer (Eastern
Ontario), Terry Gauthier (PEI), Michel Gosselin (Canadian Museum of
Nature), David Govatski (New Hampshire and Vermont), Leo Heyens (Kenora,
Ontario), Tyler Hoar (Southern Ontario), Kris Ito (French River,
Ontario), Jean Iron (James Bay and Northeastern Ontario), Hilde
Johansen (Chibougamau, Quebec), Gordon Kayahara (Timmins, ON),
Dan McAskill (PEI), Bruce Mactavish (St. John’s,
Newfoundland), David McCorquodale (Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia),
Stacy McNulty (Adirondacks NY), Brian Naylor (Nipissing District,
Ontario), Stephen O’Donnell (Parry Sound District), Justin Peter
(Algonquin Park, Ontario, Gatineau Park, Quebec), Fred Pinto
(Nipissing District, Ontario), Brian Ratcliff (Thunder Bay District
ON), Rosamund and Jim Pojar (Central British Columbia), Harvey and
Brenda Schmidt (Creighton, Saskatchewan), Michael Runtz, (Algonquin
Park), Don Sutherland (Southern James Bay and Nova Scotia), Doug
Tate (Northwest Territories), Ron Tozer (Algonquin Park ), Declan
Troy (Alaska), Mike Turner (Haliburton Highlands, Ontario), Richard
Welsman (Rosetta McClain Gardens, Toronto), the late Alan Wormington
(Point Pelee, Ontario), Matt Young (New York State). Jean Iron made
many helpful comments and hosts the forecast on her website.