The great 2017 Winter Finch Forecast

Purple finch males stand out from house finch males with their lack of streaking on the flanks. (Photo by Sharon Stiteler)

One of the things I enjoy reading in the fall is the annual Winter Finch Forecast by Ron Pittaway. He keeps track of the tree seed production in Ontario and other parts of Canada and the northeastern United States to predict where certain winter finches and a few other species like grosbeaks, jays, and nuthatches will appear. Sometimes it’s right on the nose and other times… well birds don’t always read the forecasts of what they’re supposed to be doing.

Though his forecast is mainly for Ontario, we can get idea of what to expect at our feeders this winter, too. We may find some surprises mixed with the dark-eyed juncos and northern cardinals at our feeders. Pittaway states, “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.”

Note where your state is in relation to Ontario. (Google Maps)

If you look at a map of where Ontario is situated over Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, it appears we could see some of those seed-eating birds. Sometimes, however, the birds will move east or west or even north rather than heading south. There’s some movement already, as is evidenced by the large and noisy flocks of blue jays moving through your neighborhood. Pittaway reports that acorns, beechnuts, and hazelnut crops are low, pushing the jays south in a hurry. Since the pine crops are poor, red-breasted nuthatches are on the move, too.

As for what types of finches we could see this winter, Pittaway predicts that purple finches, common redpolls, pine siskins and red crossbills are a possibility. A quick look at eBird reports for the northern United States shows lots of reports of red crossbills and pine siskins already. There are also several reports of purple finches, but I’m not convinced that most of those aren’t misidentified house finches. Common redpolls appear to be sticking to northern Canada, but maybe that will change in late November.

If you want to prepare for the potential winter finches that appear, have a good supply of black oil sunflower seeds and some fresh Nyjer seed. Sunflower is handy because you can buy a 50-pound bag and birds will still eat the seed, even if the bag is a few months old. Birds get more finicky around Nyjer and tend not to eat seed that is more than three months old.

Click here to read the full forecast.

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