The Finches Are Coming

Common redpoll, January 2013 (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Winter birding can be boring in Pittsburgh but not this year. The finches are coming!

According to Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast, we’re going to see a lot of northern finches this winter because the “cone, alder and birch seed crops are poor to low in most of Ontario and the Northeast.”  These irruptive birds usually stay in Canada all year but move south, east and west in autumn when there’s not enough to eat.  Here are a few of the “treats” in store for us in western Pennsylvania.

Above, common redpolls (Acanthis flammea) are a goldfinch-sized birds with rosy chests, rosy caps, and black faces.  When they first arrive it takes them a while to notice bird feeders but when they do they cause a mob scene.  Look carefully in the flock for a very similar white-chested bird, the rare hoary redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni).

Below, pine siskins (Spinus pinus) look like very stripey goldfinches with faint yellow wing and tail markings. Listen for their unique call like a zipper going up.

Pine siskin (photo by Shawn Collins)

Purple finches (Haemorhous purpureus) are northern visitors that resemble our familiar house finches but male purple finches are “purple” as if they were dipped head first in berry juice.  Even their flank stripes are rosy, not brown.  Here’s a guide for telling the difference between Purple and House finches.

Purple finch (photo by Brian Herman)

Two irruptive non-finch species have already arrived as indicators of good birds to come.

Red-breasted nuthatches (Sitta canadensis) are already here, searching for cones and seeds in local conifers. Listen for their tin horn calls.

Blue jays!   Yes, those crowds of blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are visiting from Canada.  They love acorns. 

Blue jay (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Learn what to expect in the 2018 Winter Finch Forecast. Fill your feeders and keep watch.

Don’t be disappointed if blue jays come to visit. They’re the harbinger of good things to come.

(photo credits: common redpoll and blue jay by Cris Hamilton, pine siskin and red-breasted nuthatch by Shawn Collins, purple finch by Brian Herman)

7 thoughts on “The Finches Are Coming

    1. Mary Kate, yes we’ll have American goldfinches but they aren’t as “special” as the winter finches who usually live only in Canada.

  1. I see as many or more blue jays under the oak trees right now as I do squirrels. I wonder if they see each other as enemy foragers??? I would imagine the squirrels as potentially being protective of their turf as they are not as mobile, or maybe there is enough to share? Also, I’ve been an avid birder for over 10 years and I still have not seen verifiably a purple finch, but that’s ok. It’s always good to have something to look for……….

  2. They love acorns.

    Raw peanuts, too, especially in shells. I just put out a bunch a half hour ago and they’re already gone. (Albany, NY, area.)

  3. It does appear that there are many more Blue Jays this year than in past years. I will keep an eye out now for the other species you call out.
    Thanks much for the tip,

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