This is an irruption (flight) year for winter finches in the East.
Cone and birch seed crops are poor to low in most of Ontario and the
Northeast, with a few exceptions such as Newfoundland which has an
excellent spruce crop. It will be a quiet winter in the North Woods.
Expect flights of winter finches into southern Ontario, southern
Quebec, Maritime Provinces, New York and New England States, with
some finches going farther south into the United States.
Stock your bird feeders because many birds will have a
difficult time finding natural foods this winter. This forecast
applies primarily to Ontario and adjacent provinces and states.
Spruce, birch and mountain-ash crops are much better in Western
Canada. For the details on each finch species, see individual
This magnificent grosbeak will move south in moderate numbers into
southern Ontario and the northern states. The Mountain-ash berry
crop in the boreal forest of Ontario and Quebec is below average and
conifer seeds are in short supply. The feeders at the Visitor Centre
in Algonquin Park should have Pine Grosbeaks this winter. At feeders
they prefer black oil sunflower seeds. Also watch for them on
European Mountain-ashes and crabapple trees.
PURPLE FINCH: Purple Finches are
now moving south out of Ontario. Most Purples will have departed the
province by December because seed crops are poor on northern
conifers and hardwoods. A few may linger at feeders in southern
Ontario where they prefer black oil sunflower seeds.
RED CROSSBILL: Red Crossbills
will be scarce this winter. Watch for them in pines. Red Crossbills
comprise about 10 "call types" in North America. The western types
seen last winter in the East have probably returned to their core
ranges in western North America. Most types are impossible to
identify without analyzing recordings of their flight calls.
Recordings can be made with an iPhone and identified to type. Matt
Young (may6 at cornell.edu) of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will
identify types if you email him your recordings
or upload them to an eBird checklist.
This helps his research. Recordings uploaded to eBird checklists are
deposited in the Macaulay Library. See link #4 for Matt’s guide to
Red Crossbill call types.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL: Most
White-winged Crossbills have moved east to Newfoundland and west to
Western Canada where spruce cone crops are much larger. Some should
wander south this winter into southern Ontario and the northern
states because of poor cone crops in the eastern boreal forest.
Watch for them on non-native spruces and European Larch.
COMMON REDPOLL: This will be a
flight year for redpolls. Birch, alder and conifer seed crops are
generally poor to low in most of the Northeast so redpolls will come
south into southern Ontario and the northern states. The first
arriving redpolls this fall likely will be seen in
fields. When redpolls discover nyger seed feeders, feeding frenzies
Fidgety redpolls are best studied at feeders. Look for the larger
and darker far northern
“Greater” Common Redpoll (subspecies rostrata) from Baffin
Island (NU) and Greenland. For subspecies ID see link #2 below.
will be the winter to see Hoaries in flocks of Common Redpolls. The
“Southern” Hoary Redpoll (subspecies exilipes) breeds south
to northern Ontario and is the subspecies usually seen in southern
Canada and northern USA. Watch for the far northern “Hornemann’s”
Hoary Redpoll (nominate hornemanni) from high arctic Nunavut
and Greenland. It is the largest and palest of the redpolls.
Hornemann’s was formerly considered a great rarity south of the
tundra, but recently it has been documented more frequently in the
south with better photos. For subspecies ID see link #2 below.
Siskins are currently moving south because cone crops in the
Northeast are generally poor on spruce, fir and hemlock. Many
siskins also have probably gone to better spruce crops in Western
Canada. Siskins relish nyger seeds in silo feeders. Link #3 below
discusses siskin irruptions related to climate variability.
EVENING GROSBEAK: Expect a
moderate flight south into southern Ontario and the northern states
because both conifer and deciduous seed crops are generally low in
The best spot to see this striking grosbeak is the feeders at the
Visitor Centre in Algonquin Park. At feeders it prefers black oil
sunflower seeds. In April 2016
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)
listed the Evening Grosbeak a species of Special Concern due
to strong population declines occurring mainly in central and
THREE IRRUPTIVE NON-FINCH PASSERINES:
Movements of the following three passerines are linked to
irruptions of boreal finches.
BLUE JAY: A very large flight of
jays is underway along the north shorelines of Lakes Ontario and
Erie. The acorn, beechnut, hazelnut crops were generally poor to low
in central Ontario and Quebec.
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: This
nuthatch is irrupting south because conifer seed crops are poor to
low in most of the eastern boreal forest. Red-breasted Nuthatches
also have moved east to Newfoundland where spruce crops are
excellent. A report on eBird at Point Pelee National Park on 25 July
2018 was an early indication of a movement.
BOHEMIAN WAXWING: A good flight
south into settled areas is expected because native Mountain-ashes
in Ontario and Quebec’s boreal forest have a below average berry
crop. Flocks will likely wander farther south and east than usual.
Watch for them feeding on European Mountain‐ash berries, small
ornamental crabapples and Buckthorn berries. Swirling flocks of
Bohemian Waxwings resemble starlings and make a continuous buzzy
WHERE TO SEE FINCHES: Ontario’s
Algonquin Provincial Park is an exciting winter experience. It is
about a 3.5 hour drive north of Toronto. Cone crops are poor in the
park so crossbills, siskins and Purple Finches will be mostly absent
this winter. The feeders at the Visitor Centre (km 43) should
attract Common and Hoary Redpolls, Evening and Pine Grosbeaks. The
feeders are easily observed from the viewing deck. The Visitor
Centre and restaurant are open weekends in winter. On weekdays there
are limited services, but snacks and drinks are available. The
bookstore has a large selection of natural history books. Be sure to
get the Birds of Algonquin Park (2012) by former park
naturalist Ron Tozer. It is one of the finest regional bird books.
The nearby Spruce Bog Trail at km 42.5 and Opeongo Road at km 44.5
are the best spots for boreal species such as finches, Canada Jay,
Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse and Black-backed Woodpecker.