Sunday, September 10, 2006

Winter Finch Forecast 2006

"Winter finches" are a group of birds that breed in the boreal forest, and only appear south of the boreal during winter. Their movements south, known as "irruptions," are one of the joys of winter birding. While a few species like purple finches migrate south regularly, most do not often come this far south in good numbers. Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has again published his annual winter finch forecast. It looks good for finches, but not for the mid-Atlantic.

This is one of those rare years when most conifers (softwoods) and broad-leaved deciduous trees (hardwoods) have synchronized bumper seed crops across much of Eastern Canada and the bordering United States. It will be an excellent winter to see winter finches in northern Ontario and central Ontario (e.g., Algonquin Park). Very few boreal finches will move south of Ontario this fall and winter. Most finches likely will be scarce even in southern Ontario south of the Canadian Shield this winter despite bumper seed crops on native and ornamental species. There also are bumper cone crops in Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, New York and northern New England States, so finches will be there too, but in what numbers is the question, because excellent crops are so widespread this year. There are good cone crops west of Lake Superior in northwestern Ontario, but cone quality diminishes towards Manitoba because of severe drought conditions this year. Cone crops are generally poor at the continental extremes in Newfoundland and Alaska. Both White-winged and Red Crossbills have been arriving in Ontario since late June in areas with bumper cone crops.
Last year's forecast mentioned that the whereabouts of red-breasted nuthatches were unknown. Following that, we had a very good year for them in the DC area. This year it seems likely that few will irrupt.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: Most Red-breasted Nuthatches will not migrate south this fall. The bumper cone crops across Ontario will hold most Red-breasted Nuthatches close to their northern breeding grounds this winter. When Red-breasted Nuthatches winter in the boreal forest they eat conifer seeds so are closely linked to finches.
Read the rest of the winter finch forecast. It includes forecasts for individual species, and explanations of how the seed crops affect the finch population and migration.