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Winter is Coming: The Winter Finch Report

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Sure we’ve still got fall migration on our minds. Sure it still feels like midsummer in some parts of the ABA Area. But there’s no surer sign of the changing seasons that Ron Pittaway’s annual Winter Finch Report.

The focus of the annual “What to expect when you’re expecting irruptive finches” is always on Ontario, but Pittaway’s insights can be extrapolated to the rest of the north east and, indeed, much of the rest of the eastern half of the continent. The last two years he’s been dead-on with regard to what species will be seen where, and birders look forward to his predictions like kids at Christmas.

Evening Grosbeaks made it as far south as northern Alabama and Mississippi last year, but will be more scarce in 2013-14, photo by Brian Gatlin

Evening Grosbeaks made it as far south as Texas last year, but they’ll be more scarce in 2013-14 – photo by Brian Gatlin

Unfortunately for winter finch enthusiasts, this year looks to be rather sparse in comparison to last winter’s amazing irruptions. Redpolls, nuthatches, crossbills, and grosbeaks are predicted to mostly stay put in boreal Canada, taking advantage of good cone and mountain ash crops across the region:

Ontario’s cone crops (except white pine) and deciduous seed/berry crops are generally above average to excellent. Very good to bumper spruce cone crops extend across Canada’s boreal forest from Yukon (bumper) east to Atlantic Canada, with rare exceptions. Cone crops are good to excellent (poor on white pine) in central Ontario and Laurentian Mountains in southern Quebec with heavy crops extending east through the Adirondack Mountains of New York and northern New England States. Birch, alder and mountain-ash berry crops are good to excellent across the boreal forest. Most reporters said that finches were thinly dispersed in their areas with few concentrations noted, except for southern Yukon which had abundant Pine Siskins this past summer. Finches this winter should be widespread given the almost continent-wide extent of the seed crops. Limited movements southward to traditional wintering areas such as Algonquin Park are expected.

Don’t be too disappointed, however. Birders in the northeast may still see Evening Grosbeaks this year as their populations appear to be on the upswing following spruce budworm outbreaks in the far north and White-winged Crossbills are expected to range widely, though not in the numbers seen in recent years.

For more species-specific forecasts, see Ron Pittaway’s full forecast at Jean Iron’s website.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog. A long-time member of the bird blogosphere, Nate has been writing about birds and birding at The Drinking Bird since 2007, but can also be found writing regularly at 10,000 Birds. In the non-digital world, he's an environmental educator and interpretive naturalist. Nate lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children, who are not yet aware that they are being groomed to be birders.
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