is that cone crops are excellent and extensive across much of the
boreal forest and the Northeast. It will not be a flight year.
Finches will be spread thinly over a vast area from western Canada
east across the Hudson Bay Lowlands into Quebec and the Atlantic
Provinces, New York and New England States. White-winged and Red
Crossbills and Pine Siskins should be widespread in low numbers. A
small movement of Pine Grosbeaks is probable because mountain-ash
berry crops are variable and some are of poor quality in the boreal
forest. Evening Grosbeak numbers are increasing as spruce budworm
outbreaks expand in the boreal forest so some may show up at feeders
in southern Ontario and the Northeast. Redpolls are unlikely to come
south because the dwarf birch crop is bumper in the Hudson Bay
Lowlands. See individual finch forecasts below for details. Three
irruptive non‐finch passerines are also discussed.
Small numbers are likely in southern Ontario because the
mountain-ash berry crop is variable with some poor quality crops in
the boreal forest of Ontario. The crop is generally very good to
excellent in Atlantic Canada, New York and New England. Pine
Grosbeaks wandering to southern Ontario will find average berry
crops on European mountain-ash, good crops on Buckthorn and average
crops on ornamental crabapples. Expect a few at sunflower seed
Purple Finches will be uncommon in Ontario, but probably in higher
numbers in Atlantic Canada, New York and New England where cone
crops are excellent. A few may frequent feeders in southern Ontario.
The Purple Finch has declined significantly in recent decades. Some
suggest it declined due to competition with the House Finch.
However, the drop in numbers began before House Finches were common
in eastern North America and also occurred where House Finches were
absent. A better explanation for the decrease is the absence of
large spruce budworm outbreaks that probably sustained higher Purple
Finch populations in the past.
Red Crossbills should be widespread in Ontario in very small
numbers, but much more frequent in the Northeast where cone crops
are excellent. This crossbill comprises at least 10 "call types" in
North America. Some types may be separate species. Most types are
almost impossible to identify without recordings of their "flight
calls". Recordings can be made using your iPhone. Send recordings to
be identified to Matt Young (may6 at cornell dot edu) at The Cornell
Lab of Ornithology. Most Red Crossbill types in winter prefer pines,
but they also use introduced spruces and European larch. The
smallest billed Type 3 prefers the small soft cones of hemlock and
white spruce. It may occur in the Northeast this winter drawn to the
excellent crops on hemlock and white spruce.
Good numbers of White-winged Crossbills are currently widespread in
the Hudson Bay Lowlands where the white and black spruce cone crops
are bumper. They may remain there this winter or some could wander
to theNortheast where spruce and hemlock cone crops are excellent.
A few should be in traditional areas such as Algonquin Park where
spruce and hemlock cone crops are better than last winter. Unlike
the Red Crossbill, the White-winged Crossbill in North America has
no subspecies and call types.
COMMON and HOARY
Redpolls in winter are a birch seed specialist and movements are
linked to the size of the birch crop. Redpolls are unlikely to come
south in numbers this winter because the dwarf birch crop is bumper
in the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Those that wander south of the boreal
forest will be stopped by a fair to good seed crop on white and
yellow birches in the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest region north
of Lake Ontario.
The nomadic siskin is a spruce seed specialist. There are currently
large numbers of siskins in Yukon including a high proportion of
hatch year birds. They will move because the spruce crop is average
in Yukon and Alaska this year, possibly coming to the East. Siskins
are expected to be widespread across Ontario this winter. Good
numbers are likely to be drawn to the excellent spruce and hemlock
crops in Atlantic Canada, New York and New England.
We can expect another good showing at feeders similar to last winter
in central Ontario and probably elsewhere in the Northeast. Highest
breeding densities are found in areas with spruce budworm outbreaks.
Grosbeak numbers are increasing as spruce budworm outbreaks expand
in Ontario and Quebec. However, current populations are still much
lower than several decades ago when budworm outbreaks were
widespread and extensive.
Movements of these species are often linked to the boreal finches.
BLUE JAY: There
will be a moderate flight, much smaller than last year, along the
north shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie. Hazelnut crops were
average. Beechnut crops were fair to good. Acorn crops were poor or
spotty north of Lake Ontario, but with some good acorn crops in the
deciduous forest region (Carolinian Zone) of southwestern Ontario.
This nuthatch is a conifer seed specialist when it winters in the
north and its movements are triggered by the same crops as some of
the boreal finches. There has been very little southward movement
indicating that this nuthatch will winter in areas with heavy cone
crops such as the boreal forest, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, New York
and New England States.
mountain-ash berry crop is generally good but variable and some
crops are of poor quality in the boreal forest. Expect to see some
Bohemians in traditional areas of southern Ontario such as Orillia,
Peterborough and Ottawa where European mountain-ash berries,
Buckthorn berries and small ornamental crabapples are available.
Bohemian Waxwings have increased in frequency and numbers as a
winter visitor to the Northeast. It now occurs commonly in some
winters on the island of Newfoundland where it was unrecorded by
Peters and Burleigh (1951) in The Birds of Newfoundland.
WHERE TO SEE FINCHES:
Algonquin Park is always an adventure about a three hour drive north
of Toronto. Cone and birch seed crops are generally average, but
much better than last winter. There are some good crops on pine,
spruce, balsam fir and hemlock, but they are spotty. The cone crop
on white cedar is bumper like elsewhere in Ontario. Feeders at the
Visitor Centre should have Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins
and Gray Jays. Sometimes Pine Martens and Fishers feed on suet and
sunflower seeds. A panoramic observation deck overlooks a
spectacular boreal muskeg. Eastern Wolves (Canis lycaon), a recently
recognized new species, are seen occasionally from the observation
deck feeding on road-killed Moose put out by park staff. The Visitor
Centre and restaurant at km 43 are open weekends in winter.
Arrangements can be made to view feeders on weekdays by calling
613-637-2828. The Spruce Bog Trail at km 42.5 near the Visitor
Centre and the gate area along the Opeongo Road are the good spots
for finches, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Spruce Grouse and
Black-backed Woodpecker. Lastly, inquire about the Birds of
Algonquin Park by Ron Tozer published by The Friends of Algonquin
Park. It is expected out early in 2012.
BASICS: I wrote this article in
1998 but it still should interest birders learning the basics about
winter finches, seed crops and irruptions. From OFO News 16(1):5-7,
I thank staff of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources from
across the province designated by an asterisk* and others whose
reports allow me to make annual forecasts: Dennis Barry (Durham
Region), Eleanor Beagan (Prince Edward Island), Peter Burke (James
Bay), Pascal Côté (Tadoussac Bird Observatory, Quebec), Samuel
Denault (Monts-Pyramides, Quebec), André Desrochers, (Laurentian
Plateau, Quebec), Bruce Di Labio (Eastern Ontario), Carolle Eady
(Dryden), Cameron Eckert (Yukon), François Gagnon (Reservoir Gouin
and Chibougamau, Quebec), Marcel Gahbauer (Alberta), Michel Gosselin
(Canadian Museum of Nature), David Govatski (New Hampshire), Charity
Hendry* (Ontario Tree Seed Facility), Leo Heyens* (Kenora), Tyler
Hoar (northern Ontario), Eric Howe*, Jean Iron (Northeastern Ontario
and James Bay), Bruce Mactavish (Newfoundland), Andree Morneault*
(Nipissing), Brian Naylor* (Nipissing), Ian Newton (England), Martyn
Obbard*, Stephen O'Donnell (Parry Sound District), Justin Peter*
(Algonquin Park), Fred Pinto* (North Bay), Brenda Schmidt
(Creighton, Saskatchewan), Don Sutherland* (Northern Ontario), Ron
Tozer (Algonquin Park), Declan Troy (Alaska), Mike Turner* (Haliburton
Highlands), John Woodcock (Thunder Cape Bird Observatory), and Matt
Young of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provided detailed
information about seed crops in New York State. I thank Jean Iron
for proofing the forecast and making many helpful comments.
23 September 2011