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What to expect in winter finches

Redpolls are members of the finch family. Since birch and alder seed crops to the north of us are good, it’s unlikely that we will have as many redpolls in southern Ontario as we had last year. Some of these social birds will however be seen through the winter in the London area. Photo by Paul Nicholson

Each fall, a winter finch forecast for Ontario is published. This year, Tyler Hoar has again shared his predictions. These forecasts are always interesting and often accurate and useful.

In developing the 2021-22 forecasts, Hoar considers factors ranging from weather trends, recent forest fires, conifer cone crops, other seed crops, bird populations, and historic information. This fall, the more than 2,000 forest fires in northern Ontario and to the west plus high temperatures in western Canada impacted birds’ food sources. This shaped his predictions. This year’s cone crops through the heart of Ontario’s boreal forest are average to poor, but the cone crops on the southern part of this boreal area are above average.

In a nutshell, Hoar says “You will be able to find most (finch) species, but it won’t be like last year when they came to so many people’s backyards. This year you’ll very likely need to go search for them.”

About White-winged and Red Crossbills, Hoar wrote that we should expect to see them in areas with good spruce cone crops, however this won’t be another irruptive year with abnormally high counts here in the south.

Purple Finches are expected to migrate through Southwestern Ontario, but not stay through the winter. Most usually overwinter in the US.

Common and Hoary Redpolls are not expected to fly into southern Ontario in large numbers through this winter since seed crops on birches, alders and spruce are above average to the north.

There is expected to be some southern movement of Pine Siskins out of the boreal forests. As their name suggests, they do enjoy seeds from pine cones. They will also eat other conifer seeds, and when pressed will eat deciduous tree seeds. These active, social birds will also dine on nyjer seeds in backyard silo feeders.

Last year, there was an irruption of Evening Grosbeaks in the south, but large numbers of these beautiful birds aren’t expected in Southwestern Ontario this winter.

Hoar did add some winter predictions about some songbird species. He expects a moderate flight of Blue Jays along the north shoreline of Lake Erie. He added “Insect defoliation has damaged many seed crops. A good number of Blue Jays should visit feeders this winter in Southern Canada.”

Whether we see grosbeaks and crossbills or not, we always have the opportunity to view American Goldfinches in good numbers through the winter in and around London. Don’t be fooled by the Goldfinches’ plumage when identifying the species. From now until spring, our Goldfinches’ don’t have their classic bright yellow breeding plumage. Instead, they have a drab appearance with wing bars on dark wings. This is a good reminder that a bird’s size and shape are more reliable identifiers than colour. An American Goldfinch is always a small bird with a conical bill and a notched tail.

The House Finch is another species that is easily seen in London through the winter. They have a look that is very similar to the Purple Finch so check each bird. A male Purple Finch has a deeper red colouring that extends to its upper back. Unlike the female House Finch, the female Purple Finch has a distinct light eyebrow.

Tyler Hoar’s full 2021-22 forecast is available at As ever, you can check postings on eBird Canada in the coming months to track finch sightings across Middlesex County.

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