Winter Finches: Happy Wanderers of the North
This report has been updated for 2016.
As winter approaches the migratory birds-warblers, vireos, blackbirds, and hawks-depart. Resident birds, chickadees, titmice, cardinals and the like persist, but we dearly miss the departed. Fear not. Our winter migrants, the winter finches and their allies, will arrive shortly. Or not. The birds known collectively as winter finches are irruptive species, appearing in Vermont in some years, but not others. Predicting their movements has become a cottage industry of sorts, and no one forecasts better than Ontario’s Ron Pittaway.
Winter finches are members of the family Fringillidae, which includes Pine Grosbeak, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, and Evening Grosbeak, as well as the crossbills, Red Crossbill and White-winged Crossbill. These birds live and breed in the boreal forests of Canada and northern New England, but breed sparingly, if at all in Vermont. Other finches that are Vermont breeding birds such as American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Purple Finch, while interesting and nomadic, will not be covered here.
A review of the CBC results from the Burlington Circle from 2006-2010 demonstrates the irruptive behavior of four winter finches.
|Species (record, year)||2006||2007||2008||2009||2010|
|Common Redpoll (908, 1965)||0||63||0||0||61|
|Pine Siskin (130, 1987)||0||1||75||0||16|
|Pine Grosbeak (244, 1985)||0||196||0||0||0|
|Evening Grosbeak (920, 1980)||0||0||0||0||0|
Why do the winter finches irrupt? The short answer is food. When food supplies in Canada are exhausted, these birds migrate southward in search of food. Thus, knowledge of their food preferences and the status of crops in Canada and the United States in any given year is the key to forecasting irruptions. Here is a summary of this year’s predictions based on Ron Pittaway’s recently released finch forecast. A useful guide to the identification and behavior of winter finches can found at http://www.jeaniron.ca/2011/WinterFinches.pdf .