GENERAL FINCH FORECAST
This winter's theme is "finches going in three directions" depending
on the species. Some finches have gone east and west or both, while
others will come south. Most coniferous and deciduous trees have very
poor seed crops in much of Ontario and western Quebec. The exception
is northwestern Ontario such as Quetico Provincial Park, Dryden and
Lake of the Woods, where there are good crops on some species.
However, north of a line from the top of Lake Nipigon to Manitoba the
crops are generally low in the boreal forest. This will be a quiet
winter for most (not all) winter finches in Algonquin Provincial
Park, in contrast to last winter's bumper seed crops and abundance of
finches. Most of last winter's White-winged Crossbills and Pine
Siskins departed Ontario this past summer. They probably went either
to eastern or western Canada or both where there are bumper cone
crops. Type 3 Red Crossbills, which were abundant in Ontario last
winter, have probably returned to their core range in western North
America. White-winged and Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins will not be
irrupting south out of Ontario as they do in some flight years,
because most have already gone east and/or west. However, other
winter finches such as Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks, Purple
Finches and redpolls are irrupting or will irrupt southward out of
northern Ontario. See individual species accounts for details. In
addition I comment on other irruptive passerines, such as the
Red-breasted Nuthatch, whose movements are linked to cone crops. Also
included is a comment on northern owls.
INDIVIDUAL FINCH FORECASTS
This grosbeak will irrupt south of the breeding range
because crops on native mountain-ashes (rowan berries) are generally
poor in northeastern Ontario and across the boreal forest. However,
crops are good in northwestern Ontario west of Lake Superior. Pine
Grosbeaks should wander south to Lake Ontario and perhaps farther in
search of crabapples and planted European mountain-ash berries, which
have average crops in southern Ontario. Watch for them at feeders
where they prefer sunflower seeds. After irruptions, Pine Grosbeaks
return north earlier than other northern finches. Most are gone by
late March. Buds form a larger part of their winter diet when
mountain-ash crops are poor.
Most Purple Finches will migrate out of Ontario this
fall in response to the low seed crops. Currently, Purple Finches are
migrating south through southern Ontario. Very few or none will stay
behind at feeders in southern Ontario.
The Red Crossbill complex comprises 9 sibling Types,
possibly full species, which have different call notes, and different
bill sizes related to cone preferences. At least three Types occur in
Ontario. Type 3 (smallest bill) prefers small hemlock cones (and
spruce cones) in Ontario. The hemlock Type 3 was abundant last
winter, but is presumed absent now from the province because hemlock
produced few or no cones in 2007. Type 4 (medium sized bill) is
adapted to white pine cones. White pine cone crops are fair to good
(but spotty) in northern Ontario. Currently, small numbers of Type 4
Red Crossbills are present on the "east side" of Algonquin Park
(heavy crop on white pine) and probably elsewhere with extensive
white pine forest. Algonquin's east side pine forest is accessible
from Highway 17 west of Pembroke. South of Algonquin white pine crops
are poor to none. An infrequent presumed Type 2 Red Crossbill is
associated with red pine forests.
This crossbill moves back and forth across
northern coniferous forests searching for new cone crops. Most
White-winged Crossbills left Ontario this past summer. They will be
scarce or absent in Ontario this winter. They presumably went either
west to bumper spruce and fir cone crops in Alberta and British
Columbia, and/or to Atlantic Canada, which has large cone crops on
spruce and balsam fir, particularly in Newfoundland and Cape Breton
Island in Nova Scotia. White-winged Crossbills are currently common
in Newfoundland and western Canada.
Common and Hoary Redpolls:
There will be a big flight of redpolls
into southern Ontario and bordering United States. Seed crops on
white birch, yellow birch and alder are very poor in most of Ontario.
Expect redpolls at bird feeders this winter. Far northwestern Ontario
has a good white birch crop so redpolls may be common there.
Similar to the White-winged Crossbill, most Pine Siskins
departed Ontario this past summer, presumably attracted to huge
spruce and fir cone crops in Alberta and British Columbia and/or to
big spruce and balsam fir cone crops in Newfoundland and Cape Breton
Island and probably elsewhere in the Atlantic Provinces. Some of the
very few siskins that remained in Ontario are now wandering south
with sightings of usually only ones and twos in southern Ontario.
Large southward irruptions occur when cone crop failures span much of
Canada. Very few siskins will visit feeders this winter in southern Ontario.
This grosbeak will irrupt south of the boreal
forest this fall because tree seed crops are generally very poor in
northeastern Ontario and western Quebec. In recent weeks scattered
birds have visited feeders in southern Ontario. Beginning in the
early 1980s the Evening Grosbeak declined significantly as large
outbreaks of spruce budworm subsided. The larvae and pupae are eaten
by adults and fed to nestlings. Expect Evening Grosbeaks at bird
feeders in southern Ontario and northern United States, but not in
the large numbers seen during the 1970s.
OTHER IRRUPTIVE PASSERINES
Red-breasted Nuthatch: They have been moving south since mid-June
presumably because of the poor cone crop in central Canada. Almost
all Red-breasted Nuthatches will depart Ontario's boreal forest by
late fall and left the province. Some will be at feeders in southern
Ontario, but they will be very scarce in Algonquin Park. Algonquin
Christmas Bird Counts (32 years) show a biennial (every two years)
high and low pattern, with some exceptions.
Bohemian Waxwing: The poor crop of native mountain-ash (rowan
berries) in much of northern Ontario will cause Bohemians Waxwings to
wander south and east this winter. Watch for them eating buckthorn
berries and crabapples in southern Ontario. The mountain-ash crop is
better west of Lake Superior with a big crop around Kenora at Lake of
Blue Jay: A strong flight is expected this fall. The beechnut crop is
zero and the acorn crop on red oak is only fair to good (aborted in
some areas) in central Ontario. Soon thousands of jays will be
migrating southwest along the shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie,
exiting Ontario south of Windsor. This winter there will be far fewer
Blue Jays in Algonquin Park and at feeders in central Ontario.
Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee: They are moving in northeastern Quebec
east of Tadoussac along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.
These movements could extend to southern Ontario and northeastern states.
Small mammal populations were abundant this summer in northern
Ontario, presumably increasing after the big seed/berry/fruit crops
in 2006. However, crops this year are very poor in much of the north,
partly caused by cold weather and snow in late spring that froze the
buds and flowers of many plants. In early August, Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources biologists on aerial surveys noted many raptors
near James Bay including 15-20 Great Gray Owls, Short-eared Owls
(common), Northern Harriers (common) and scattered Rough-legged
Hawks. If small mammal populations crash this fall, then Great Gray
Owls, Northern Hawk Owls and Boreal Owls will move, possibly
southward into areas accessible by birders. Northern Saw-whet Owl
numbers are linked to red-backed voles (a forest vole) in Ontario.
There is the possibility that this vole could decline soon because it
often cycles with deer mice. The huge population of deer mice in
central Ontario is declining rapidly now because of poor seed crops
this summer, particularly sugar maple samaras, which they store for
the winter. If red-backed vole numbers decline as they often do in
association with deer mice, there will be a strong flight of Northern
Saw-whet Owls this fall.
I thank staff of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) and
birders whose reports allow me to make predictions about finches.
They are Ken Abraham (OMNR Hudson Bay Lowlands), Dennis Barry (Durham
Region and Haliburton County), Kevin Clute (Algonquin Park), Shirley
Davidson (OMNR Minden), Bruce Di Labio (Eastern Ontario), Carrolle
Eady (Dryden), Dave Elder (Atikokan), Bruce Falls (Brodie Club,
Toronto), Brian Fox (OMNR Timmins to Chapleau), Marcel Gahbauer
(Labrador, Alberta, British Columbia), Michel Gosselin (Gatineau,
Quebec), Charity Hendry (OMNR Ontario Tree Seed Plant), Leo Heyens
(OMNR Kenora), Tyler Hoar (central Ontario and southern Quebec),
Peter Hynard (Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia), Jean Iron (Toronto
and northeastern Quebec), Christine Kerrigan and Peter Nevin (Parry
Sound District), Barry Kinch (Timiskaming), Bob Knudsen (Ontario
Parks, Algoma), Bruce Mactavish (Newfoundland), Scott McPherson (OMNR
Northeast Region), Brian Naylor (OMNR North Bay), Marty Obbard (OMNR
Peterborough), Justin Peter (Algonquin Park), Janet Pineau (Arrowhead
Provincial Park), Fred Pinto (OMNR North Bay), Gordon Ross (OMNR
Moosonee), Rick Salmon (OMNR Lake Nipigon), Don Sutherland (OMNR
Hudson Bay Lowlands), Doug Tozer (Algonquin Park), Ron Tozer
(Algonquin Park and Muskoka), Declan Troy (Alaska), Mike Turner (OMNR
Brancroft District), Stan Vasiliauskas (OMNR Northeast Region), Mike
Walsh (OMNR Muskoka and Parry Sound), John White (OMNR Ontario Tree
Seed Plant) and Alan Wormington (Point Pelee). I thank Michel
Gosselin, Jean Iron and Ron Tozer for reviewing the forecast. Ron
Tozer also provided information from his upcoming book on The Birds
of Algonquin Provincial Park.
PREVIOUS FINCH FORECASTS
Winter Finch Forecast 2006-2007 by Ron Pittaway.
Larry Neily has archived
previous finch forecasts at
Ontario Field Ornithologists
15 September 2007