For the Birds Radio Program: Winter's start

Original Air Date: Nov. 24, 2003

Laura’s seeing big changes as autumn turns into winter. What should we be seeing this winter?

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Now that winter seems to have arrived, at least temporarily, a lot of birds have disappeared for the duration. By Saturday last week, I’d seen the last of the Fox Sparrows that have been coming to my feeder daily since October. All but one White-throated Sparrow have headed on, too, along with most of my Mourning Doves. That last-minute little Pine Warbler that turned up in my yard last week disappeared after two days.

So right now I don’t have as many birds as I had a week ago. But I still have a good number for November—8 or 10 juncoes, the one lone White-throated Sparrow, one or two Mourning Doves, 2 Downy and 2 Hairy Woodpeckers, a White-breasted Nuthatch, and a host of chickadees. The chickadees seemed a bit disconcerted by the snow, and spent the heavy snow day on Sunday close to their mealworm supply at my office window feeder. During the snowstorm, I didn’t see any of the goldfinches or siskins that have been visiting this week.

But just as some birds are disappearing, others are showing up. A couple of Pine Grosbeaks have been visiting my mother-in-law’s feeder in Port Wing, Wisconsin, and some people have seen whole flocks of Pine and Evening Grosbeaks in Port Wing. More and more people are spotting siskins at their feeders, and I’ve even heard of a few early redpolls.

This month’s Badger Birder, the newsletter of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, has a winter finch forecast based on tree seed crops. Ron Pittaway predicts that this is going to be a good year for us to see finches, because a failure of seed crops except White Spruce over much of northern Ontario will send many birds our way. Mountain ash is doing poorly in northern Ontario, though it’s doing fairly well in the southern parts of the province. Ron believes that since Pine Grosbeaks depend on mountain ash, we should have a surge in their numbers this year.

Ron says that in Ontario, Purple Finches are declining, but he predicts that we’ll see some of them our way this year. He expects lots of redpolls, too, because these birds leave northern Ontario when birch seeds fail, as they’re doing this year. Down here we see redpolls in birches, but also in weedy fields and at feeders. Lots of siskins and goldfinches should winter in our area, too.

Ron notes that Evening Grosbeaks are dwindling in Ontario, so he doesn’t know what this species is going to do.

Birds are functionally illiterate, so they haven’t read Ron Pittaway’s predictions. But they do, in fact, respond to changes in food supplies here and there, so it will be interesting to see if they bear out Ron’s forecast. If you have interesting birds at your feeder, let us know.