Evening Grosbeak Ruthie Snogren


When late migrants are leaving for warmer climates, my focus starts to shift to a group of birds sometimes referred to as “winter finches”. Winter finches are a loose group that live year-round in the boreal forests of the north. They do not migrate north and south. Instead, they roam like nomads through the boreal zone that circles the globe. In our area, fingers of boreal forest extend south from  Canada into the high mountains of Western Maine.

Winter Finches wander this band of forest, each searching for the foods they specialize in like cone seeds, seeds from other trees, berries and spruce budworm. In some years, when seed and berry crops fail, large numbers will flood further south. This type of movement is called an “irruption”. There are scientists and conservationists who study and predict when we might expect an irruption. See https://finchnetwork.org/winter-finch-forecast-2020 for this year’s forecast.

Winter finches include Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, and two types of crossbills. Other non-finch birds are sometimes lumped in this group because of their nomadic lifestyle. These include the Red-breasted Nuthatch and Bohemian Waxwings.

Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks and Nuthatches are expected to occur in decent numbers in our area this winter. My friend, Ruthie Snogren (9 years old), took this photo of an Evening Grosbeak in her yard. She also reports Purple Finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches. I’ve had Pine Siskins in addition to Purple Finches and an abundance of nuthatches.

Winter Finches can be fun. I would recommend studying the birds I listed above so that you know what to watch for. They are small birds which travel in flocks. So, you have to be ready and have a keen eye to identify many of them. Also, they may only appear for a few days until they’ve eaten all of the food in an area. Then, these nomads move on. But in the meantime, watch for irruptions into our area.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME. To learn more visit www.mahoosuc.org. To contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

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