We had two female Purple Finches at our window feeders Thursday morning. One of them died just before lunch, flying into the glass. That’s one less finch in what could be a very slim winter for those visitors from the north.

The prediction comes from two birders in Canada – Jean Iron and Ron Pittaway – who each fall collect information on tree-seed crops. Those seeds are a deciding factor in how many northern finches we will see here in the coming months.

The seed crops are excellent, says the report, no flight year predicted for all but (possibly) Pine Grosbeaks. Observers expect finches to be spread thinly over almost the whole of Canada.

In summary, both crossbill species and Pine Siskins are expected to be widespread in Canada, in low numbers; some could drift south. Pine Grosbeaks could make a small movement south because Mountain Ash berry crops are variable in the boreal forest. Evening Grosbeaks are being seen in greater numbers in Ontario, probably because spruce budworm outbreaks are expanding there. Reporters say that Redpolls are unlikely to move south because the birch seeds on which they feed are plentiful this year.

This doesn’t mean that there will be none of these birds at your feeders this winter. It suggests that they won’t be numerous. Purple Finches have been reported at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, and I assume we have one left here. That’s a start.

Thanks to Ron Pittaway of Ontario Field Ornithologists for sending the report (via the BirdChat email network), to Jean Iron for her contributions, and to dozens of birders across Canada who provided reports on seed conditions.

Below is one of the female Purple Finches seen at our window feeders Thursday. The markings on the face of the bird distinguish it from the more common House Finches. Female House Finches have plain, unmarked faces.




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