This winter is shaping up to be an invasion year for White-winged Crossbills and a few other northern finches.
Crossbills, grosbeaks, siskins, and redpolls — known collectively as northern or winter finches — move south into the United States and southern Canada when seed and fruit crops in northern Canada and Alaska are diminished. This year is no different.
Below are notes on birds to watch for and maps from eBird of where they’ve been seen since October. Be sure to report your sightings to eBird, too!
White-winged Crossbill sightings, October-December 2008. Source: eBird.
White-winged Crossbill. This handsome finch named for its curved, crisscrossed bill has been reported in large numbers in the Northeast and Midwest, including an observation of 1,785 crossbills during two and a half hours on November 24 at Hamlin Beach State Park in upstate New York. According to eBird, the birds “may be expected to show up this winter as far south as Virginia, Ohio, and Kansas, and stragglers may turn up even farther south to the Carolinas, Gulf coast states, and northern Texas.”
Look for the birds in conifer stands and at places where migratory birds are frequently seen. And be sure to familiarize yourself with their vocalizations.
Red Crossbill sightings, October-December 2008. Source: eBird.
Red Crossbill. This erratic wanderer lives year-round in the western states and in southern Canada. It has not moved south in large numbers this winter, although small numbers of birds have turned up from Maine to Missouri.
Purple Finch sightings, October-December 2008. Source: eBird.
Purple Finch. This raspberry-colored finch will remain in northern forests “only when most tree species have heavy seed crops,” according to Ontario birder Ron Pittaway in his Winter Finch Forecast 2008-2009. “This fall most Purple Finches will migrate south out of the province because overall tree seed crops are too low. A very few may winter in southern Ontario.” His prediction has proven true: The birds are being found in the eastern U.S. and along the west coast.
Pine Siskin sightings, October-December 2008. Source: eBird.
Pine Siskin. This goldfinch look-alike winters in limited areas south of the border every year, especially in the western mountains, but in some years it irrupts to cover much of the continent. This year it has been found in significant numbers from coast to coast and as far south as the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
Common Redpoll sightings, October-December 2008. Source: eBird.
Common Redpoll. This small flocking finch with a pink breast was found in large numbers last winter in the Northeast and Midwest, and stragglers went as far as Arkansas and New Mexico. So far this winter, it has been reported in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Washington, and other states.
Evening Grosbeak sightings, October-December 2008. Source: eBird.
Evening Grosbeak. This chunky dull yellow finch with black and white wings occurs in winter in the Great Lakes and western states and occasionally flies as far as the Gulf coast. This year it has not moved south in large numbers.
Have you seen any winter finches yet this year? If so, tell us in the comments below. — M.M.