Finches are found across North America, but every winter, certain species of finches partake in movements of great numbers into various regions. Learn where to find these finch irruptions for winter 2023/2024!
The Winter Finch Forecast is a creation of the late Ron Pittaway. Conservationists like Ron create these novel projects that become true movements to save birds and other organisms! To keep up with the movements of finches this winter, I would encourage all readers to JOIN and DONATE to the Finch Research Network! This crew does amazing work in the field of finch conservation and knowledge sharing.
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Which regions will see the big finch movements?
When finches irrupt, certain regions of North America seem to benefit more than others. Fortunately, there are so many species of irruptive finches that we all get to experience winter finches. Somewhat. While every state, province, or territory might not get to experience siskins in the tens of thousands or grosbeaks filling every treetop, most areas will see a little movement from some northern or eastern finches that are uncommon. And this, my bird friends, is the potential excitement that the Winter Finch Forecast brings. Onward to the maps!
Pine Siskin Irruption Map
Pine Siskins are on the move throughout the continent. The forecast is predicting strong movements ACROSS the board due to a poor white spruce crop throughout much of the boreal forests, which harbors the majority of Pine Siskin breeding populations. Two monitoring stations along the US-Canada border in the northeast have counted well over 120,000 Pine Siskins migrating south (so far), which is significantly more than the previous fall! A single-day count at Whitefish Point yielded 19,260 birds!
Evening Grosbeak Irruption Map
Tyler Hoar (Finch Forecast Extraordinaire) and the Finch Research Network noted ample native food options for Evening Grosbeaks east of the Great Lakes. This will lead to a lesser movement along the Atlantic Region, but the Great Lakes and westward may see more localized movements from birds.
Common Redpoll Irruption Map
The Pine Siskin movement is expected to be wild, but the Common Redpoll movement might be even more impressive! At a single monitoring site, 20,000+ redpolls were counted from Oct 22 through Oct 23! Redpolls have not gotten as far south as siskins and are unlikely to achieve such a lofty goal. However, these little finches have already had an above-adequate shift in numbers into the lower 48.
Hoary Redpoll Irruption Map
We will not attempt to settle the argument of Hoary Redpolls being the same species as Common Redpolls. Regardless of your feelings on the topic, we can all agree on Hoarys being less common. This is true for the current movement of Hoary Redpolls in fall 2023. There are minimal reports of movements, and they are likely to only be scattered amongst the hordes of Common Redpolls.
Purple Finch Irruption Map
Purple Finches have pushed into the Rockies from the east, and some individuals have already reached east Texas. This matches the forecast prediction of more abundant movements in the Midwest and Great Plains but possibly weaker numbers moving along the Atlantic states.
Cassin's Finch Irruption Map
Cassin's Finches are less prone to large-scale movements due to a more reliable winter diet within their range. They have strayed a little further east and south than their typical winter range, so keep an eye out for individuals mixing in with other migratory finches that are straying far and wide.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Irruption Map
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches were 'in absentia' at feeders across the West last winter. While nobody is certain where rosies went last winter, reports indicate there is some movement across the Rockies. It may not be the thousands reported at some sites in previous years, but there should be hope for a return to pink-tinged normalcy at well-stocked platform feeders. For those in the east, the Great Lakes may be the best opportunity to catch a stray rosy-finch. While this species is not highlighted in the Winter Finch Forecast, it is still monitored by the Finch Research Network and a host of other conservation partners.
White-winged Crossbill Irruption Map
Crossbills are movers and shakers. When the cone crop is inadequate, these nomads pack their feathers and fly. That will hold true this winter with spotty food availability. Movements have not been greatly abnormal to date, but that may change as we dive further into winter. Keep an eye out near areas with planted or cultivated ornamental spruces and firs.
Red Crossbill Irruption Map
Red Crossbills have already been found from coast to coast. These few nomads may be joined by fellow flockers as the cone crop dwindles throughout the winter. Expect more crossbills to appear as food availability shortens.
Pine Grosbeak Irruption Map
Movements of Pine Grosbeaks into the Great Plains have already started. Numbers may not be exponential, but due to patchy mountain ash crop availability (according to the WFF), there may be localized movements throughout the Plains, Midwest, and West.
Which finches will have the greatest movements?
Most finches in the Winter Finch Forecast will see some moderate levels of movements across their respective winter ranges. However, the numbers of Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls counted in the east indicate either the highest or second-highest counts of fall movements in the past five years. Tadoussac has recorded ~65,000 Pine Siskins and ~70,000 Common Redpolls, which are astounding numbers to begin to visualize. These two species likely represent the greatest movements for the 2023/2024 winter season.
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Where should I travel to see the most winter finches?
For those wanting to maximize their winter "finching," travel to the Great Lakes states, upper midwest, and northern Great Plains. These areas should see moderate to large numbers of finches in addition to the greatest diversity of finches that are camera-ready! The Northeast may also produce some great flocks of finches, but they may not be as impressive as a bit further west. Of course, the Rockies and western states will produce the maximum finch diversity, but the numbers may not impress avid birders.
If you travel to the western and southwestern states, you can always see the varieties of resident western finches such as Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, and Black Rosy-Finch. The last two still winter at higher elevations but are frequent feeder visitors, making them fairly easy to find. The goldfinches are common at lower elevations, and Lesser Goldfinches are found in large flocks at Nyjer™ feeders.
How do I find finches near me?
When it comes to finding finches in winter, there is a simple mantra you should utter consistently: "Find the food. Find the food. Find the food." Finches are voracious eaters and will spend most of their day cycling through areas where food is abundant. If you can find weedy patches or waterways with intact seed heads, you are likely to find redpolls. Crossbills will typically be found near cone crops, and if native cone crops are insufficient, check your local parks and cemeteries where ornamental trees have been planted. Pine Siskins are frequent feeder visitors, but they can also be found in the tops of spruce, fir, larch, and other pines. You can also search for flocks feeding on the buds of willows along riparian corridors. Regardless of species, determine their mainstay winter food sources, then find a patch of that food local to you.
How can I help winter finches?
These finches are typically on the move due to food shortages. The best ways to help these weary wanderers involve supplying food, water, and shelter and mitigating against anthropomorphic dangers. While completely renovating your yard cannot be completed overnight, there is no better time than the present to begin creating a bird sanctuary full of native plants that provide shelter and food year-round for birds. But in the meantime, provide supplemental food through Nyjer™ and finch feeders. Water can be locked up in the form of ice during winter, so heated birdbaths (#ad) can be lifesavers for a well-traveled finch. Finches are some of the most frequent victims of window strikes, so treating windows to minimize strikes is an easy solution to add some extra protection around your home.
How do I attract winter finches?
Luring finches to your yard is not difficult. Winter finches are the best backyard bird feeder customers, and while they have particular tastes, once you have them hooked, they will delight your family for hours. As I have mentioned several times throughout this article, if you want finches near your home, you MUST offer them something they NEED.
Food and water.
These are the ONLY surefire ways to draw in finches. Now, the manner in which they are provided can vary across a spectrum of methods, be it by feeder or native plant. For the smaller finches, Nyjer™ is a favored food option that should be combined with small finch feeders. However, a recent study suggests you will want to ensure that the Nyjer™ you purchase is sourced from Ethiopia, as birds show an infinity towards Ethiopian Nyjer™ that is almost 5X greater than seed sourced from India. For the larger finches, combine my two favorite feeding mainstays: platform feeders and black oil sunflower seed. The medium and large finches prefer these larger seed options and especially love when they are served on a stable surface with plenty of space for foot and flock.
Adding native landscaping to your yard can also aid in creating a finch vacation spot. Create shelter areas with large conifers or thick brush, plant winter berries, leave standing seed heads, and keep non-native animals (like cats) off of your yard. A combination of feeders and habitat creates a space for birds and humans to share for generations.
A forecast unlike any other!
The Winter Finch Forecast, a project envisioned and created by the late Ron Pittaway, has become a true movement in the field of bird conservation. Ron, a renowned conservationist and environmental educator, was passionate about bird conservation, and his idea of creating a forecast for the movements of finches in winter has gained widespread recognition and appreciation among bird enthusiasts and conservationists alike.
The Finch Research Network, a team of experts dedicated to the study and conservation of finches, has been instrumental in bringing Ron's vision to continuous fruition. With their tireless efforts and extensive knowledge, they have not only brought valuable insights into the movements of finches but have also facilitated knowledge-sharing and conservation efforts.
As winter approaches, it is essential to stay informed and keep track of the movements of these beautiful birds. I encourage all readers to join and donate to the Finch Research Network, an organization that continues to do incredible work in the field of finch conservation and research. With your support, we can help protect these magnificent feathered animals and ensure their survival for generations to come.
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