One pine siskin does not a winter make, but it's a good beginning.
It could be forerunner of a flight of winter finches moving south from Canada to, hopefully, find our feeders. Minnesota will be on the western edge of what is predicted to be a significant finch movement.
Ron Pittaway, a member of the Toronto Field Ornithologists, is predicting this irruption. He tracks tree-seed crops across Canada. Finches eat seeds, and poor seed crops push the birds south.
He reports that this is not a good year in central and eastern Canada for spruce, birch and mountain ash seed crops.
Purple finches were moving south out of Ontario in September, Pittaway said. If and when these birds arrive here they will be looking for black oil sunflower seeds at your feeders.
Pittaway says this will be a good year for redpoll movement. Alder and conifer seed crops also are thin in northeast Canada, so redpolls will come south into southern Ontario and the northern states, he said.
Look for them on seed heads in weedy fields. They'll feed eagerly on nyger thistle seed if they find your feeders.
Siskins were seen in scattered places in the metro area in early November. We had one here. They like thistle seeds. We have two thistle feeders up and working. They're seed silos, tubes of metal mesh, and work very well.
Red-breasted nuthatches are being reported in many Twin Cities locations, including at our feeders. They should stay the winter. We had two visits in early November. They were eating black oil sunflower seeds.
Red crossbills will be scarce this winter, Pittaway said. If we are to see any they will be high in pines, prying seeds from cones. Red crossbills vary by call, the notes they use to hold the flock together while in flight.
(The birds have 10 different flight calls, delivered by birds of identical appearance. This has been offered by some birders as indication of 10 species, and justification for making that official. That would provide the identification challenge of the century. It is unlikely.)
Some white-winged crossbills could drift down here this winter. They eat pine seeds, yet another crop said to be thin this year. Both crossbill species are more likely to our north.
Blue jays are on the move. Corn and nuts, jay staples, had generally poor crops in Ontario this fall. Jays often move south in flocks along the shore of Lake Superior, although those flights likely occurred earlier this fall.
Evening grosbeaks, most often found from Aitkin County north, will move into Minnesota in moderate numbers, Pittaway said. The mountain ash berry crop, a favored food, is below average in Ontario.
Pine grosbeaks also are possible. They like black oil sunflower seeds and crabapples. Again, the farther north you are, the better your chances. If you're heading to Lutsen to ski, check mountain ash trees along Hwy. 61. The city campground in Grand Marais always is worth a look for any winter songbird species.
Stock up on black oil sunflower and nyger thistle seed. Keep the feeders full, clean and free of snow.
Here, courtesy of Pittaway, is a web link for more information about finches: http://jeaniron.ca/articles/FinchForecasterFe2016.pdf
Read Jim Williams' birding blog at startribune.com/wingnut.