by Ron Pittaway

Common Redpoll on female white birch catkins by Jean iron


Ron Pittaway's First Winter Finch Forecast


PINE GROSBEAK: My spies in northern Ontario report very poor berry crops in northeastern Ontario this year, including Mountain-ash (Sorbus). However, Mountain-ash crops are better in northwestern Ontario. Since Pine Grosbeaks are keyed to Mountain-ash, we can expect at least a moderate flight into central Ontario (Algonquin Park) and perhaps well into southern Ontario. When Mountain-ash berries aren't available, Pines feed on conifer seeds (generally poor this year except cedar), ash (Fraxinus) seeds (some) and they eat the buds of both conifers and hardwoods. Some winters in Algonquin Park, they seem to survive entirely on tree buds. Pine Grosbeaks also visit feeders where they love sunflower seeds.


COMMON REDPOLLS: Last weekend I assessed the catkin seed crops on White and Yellow Birches in Haliburton County about 200 km north of Toronto. Both birch crops are very poor on Canadian Shield of central Ontario this year. I'm assuming that White Birch seeds are also low in northern Ontario. Since Common Redpolls winter in the boreal forest when White Birch catkins are loaded with seeds and there is little conifer seed as backup food, I'm predicting a good flight of redpolls this fall and winter.


OTHER FINCHES: Both conifer and hardwood tree seed crops are very poor this year across much of northern Ontario. Pine Siskins, Purple Finches and both species of crossbills should be largely absent from the province this winter. I'm not sure about Evening Grosbeaks, but with the lack of natural foods they may leave too or take over your feeders.


RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH: The Red-breasted Nuthatch is also a conifer seed specialist and it often irrupts south as do the boreal finches. Red-breasted Nutatches have been on the move for more than a month. With the lack of conifer seeds this year, Red-breasted Nuthatches will be rare in the forests of central Ontario (Algonquin Park) and the boreal forests of northern Ontario this winter.


CAVEAT: Predicting bird movements and numbers is is both an art and a science. I'm confident that the above forecast is at least as reliable as any long range weather forecast, probably more so because it's based on seed crops that won't change this year. Nevertheless, it'll be interesting to see if the finches read this report and decide to prove me wrong!


Enjoy the birds,


Ron Pittaway
31 August 1999     

Minden, Ontario