Winter Finches Already!

Male red crossbill in hemlock, Jan 2013 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

27 September 2022

If you’re birding on the coast of Maine you already know this is a good year for winter finches, but I’d just arrived from Pittsburgh so I was surprised to hear jip-jip-jip among the conifers last Saturday in Acadia National Park. Was I hearing crossbills? Yes!

The Finch Network’s Winter Finch Forecast 2022-2023 explains:

In eastern North America, there is a good food crop along the coastal areas of Maritime Provinces southward into New England, which should hold many finches this winter.

Spruce cones are everywhere at Acadia, littering the trails in various stages of ripeness from sappy to seedless.

Spruce cones at various stages, Flying Mountain, Acadia National Park, 25 Sept 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Small groups of red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) are almost everywhere, too. If you know what to listen for the birds are easy to find on Mount Desert Island.

Lots of people are seeing and hearing them as shown in eBird’s September 2022 map below. Note that the high density of crossbill reports is actually due to the high density of birders in the park.

Red crossbill species map, 26 September 2022 (map from eBird)

On Sunday at Flying Mountain I saw eight red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) eating spruce cones. This 2013 photo on a hemlock shows how they feed:

  • Use feet to grab the cone,
  • Use crossed beak to twist open the seed shield,
  • Lick the seed out of the pocket.
Male red crossbill feeding on hemlock cone, grabbing with feet (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Winter Finch Forecast 2022-2023 predicts that points south along the coast will see crossbills this winter.

The “Northeastern Crossbill” (i.e. eastern Type 10) will be around this winter, but will they migrate down the coast to Long Island, Cape May and Delaware and points south, as they sometimes do as cone crops are depleted as we progress through the winter season.

Winter Finch Forecast 2022-2023

Though Pittsburgh won’t see crossbills, check out the Winter Finch Forecast 2022-2023 for what we can look forward to in western Pennsylvania. If we’re lucky we may see:

  • Common and hoary redpolls
  • Purple finches
  • Evening grosbeaks, certainly in PA’s northern tier
  • Red-breasted nuthatches
  • And a big year for blue jays.

(photos from Kate St. John and Wikimedia Commons, map from eBird.org; click on the captions to see the originals)

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