There are a number of good signs out there that this may turn into a very good fall and winter for us bird feeders! Here's why I think so.
We are all familiar with the migrating birds that come in the spring and leave in the fall (or vice versa), year-in-and-year-out, and in a somewhat preditable fashion. Hummingbirds, orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, catbirds, and juncos are the ones most familiar to us.
But there are a number of birds that migrate more irregularly, showing up some years and not showing up in other years. This is called irruptive migration, meaning "migrations that are not seasonally or geographically predictable". (Kerlinger)
The irruptive migrants that we're most likely to see in our yards are Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins. Other birdfeeder birds that can move in an irruptive fashion are Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and even Blue Jays!
Every year, Canadian ornithologist Ron Pittaway writes a Winter Finch Forecast, predicting (from an Ontario, Canada perspective) the winter movement of irruptive bird species. His predictions are based on the availability of food, mainly the tree seed crops that certain irruptive species need to survive the winter months.
Some of the Good News from the Forecast
Poor seed crops on both coniferous and hardwood trees could very well cause some movement of irruptive species into our area. Here's some of the good news from Pittaway's forecast (again, from an Ontario perspective):
1) He is predicting that "most Purple Finches will migrate south of Ontario this fall".
2) He also predicts "there should be a good southward flight (of Common Redpoll) because the white birch seed crop is poor to fair across the north."
3) As far as Pine Siskins, he states "some siskins currently in the Northeast should move south this fall and winter because cone crops are poor." Siskins, however, have been known to move westward in search of food.
4) Even Red-breasted Nuthatches are on the move with "a widespread irruption of this nuthatch beginning in mid-summer indicated a cone crop failure in the Northeast."
5) Evening Grosbeaks might be seen "at feeders in central Ontario and probably elsewhere in the Northeast because coniferous and hardwood tree seed supplies are low."
Early Signs are Good!
Early signs in upstate New York are good that his predictions might be right!
- Purple Finches are being seen, sometimes amongst House Finches, by bird feeders who have typically hosted only the latter.
- Pine Siskins are already in Saratoga County in decent-sized flocks of over 20 birds (like at my house!) Further north near Lake Placid, flocks are growing and are now nearing 100 birds.
- Red-breasted Nuthatches are visiting feeders that have typically been visited primarily by White-breasted Nuthatches.
- Evening Grosbeaks have been reported in Gansevoort NY as well as further north in the Adirondacks.
Amongst other non-irruptive species, good-sized winter flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers are already visiting birdfeeders hard. Natural food supplies, while still accessible, may be low due to our somewhat dry early summer. Add some snow and ice to the equation, and our year-round birds might be really busy at feeders this winter!
Bottom line is that I think it could become a GREAT season for us feeder-watchers!
Get your birdfeeders ready by giving them a little fall cleaning. Buy some fresh birdseed, and make sure your niger seed (thistle) is fresh. Seed in the feeders should be dry and loose, not clumpy and moldy. Add some additional birdfeeders, especially finch feeders.
And please let us know right here or in our store about the activity at your birdfeeders this fall and winter.
I am so psyched....I can't wait!!!
SOURCES: How Birds Migrate, Paul Kerlinger; Winter Finch Forecast 2012-2013, Ron Pittaway, Ontario Field Ornithologists