A feathered silver lining for nature lovers this December
As I looked down the bleak possibility of not traveling for many months this winter, I wondered how I’d fare birding-wise. I find that birders have been given a gift. This is a great winter in the Midwest to experience winter finches. Birds like common redpolls, white-winged crossbills, and evening grosbeaks are generally not a guarantee in winter unless you find yourself in the very northern reaches of the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. This year, however, the finches appear to be coming to everyone, even the Southern states.
Initially the winter finch forecast seemed to indicate that we wouldn’t see too many birds this winter. Sure, red-breasted nuthatches and siskins, but many pine grosbeaks, Bohemian waxwings, and white-winged crossbills were going to stay up in Canada. Until they didn’t.
It started in early fall when hoards of pine siskins descended on northern state feeders. About the size of a goldfinch and covered in dark streaks, the birds arrived in large flocks of 20 to 50 birds. Once the sunflower and Nyjer was temporarily depleted, the hoards headed further south. Along with the siskins came a steady stream of red-breasted nuthatches and purple finches.
Soon reports of evening grosbeaks started coming through the birding networks and many people are seeing them at feeders or hearing them flyover. Looking like a goldfinch on steroids, the birds caught the attention of even the most novice bird feeders. Reports have evening grosbeaks in Iowa and Indiana.
And now white-winged crossbills are at the top of any conifer with pine cones. I heard a report of some nearby crossbills and I stepped outside to get in my car to find them. As soon as I was out the door, I heard some and discovered them feeding on pine cones on all the trees in my neighborhood. As COVID-19 has brought in new birders because people are stuck at home, photos of crossbills feeding on sunflower seeds are popping up with people wondering if they have a bird with a beak deformity.
Common redpolls are popping up in the northern states, and as winter progresses, more will be heading into the southern Midwest. These birds are noticeable for their white streaky bodies, red cap and black goatee and like pine siskins they love sunflower seeds and Nyjer.
So whether you’re new to bird feeding or an old seasoned pro, keep an eye on those feeders for a few wild cards to show up this winter. The smaller birds like siskins and redpolls readily come to finch feeders, but the larger grosbeaks and crossbills prefer platform feeders or hopper styles with lots of sunflower seeds. Basically, if a cardinal will come to it, they will come to it.