Birding Today: Birds head toward winter food sources

Migrant Blue jays have been moving south in increasing numbers in the eastern half of the country. These movements will bear watching during fall migration for concentrations.

Winter is quickly approaching, and to make it more exciting, we have already seen some of our irruptive winter finches. For those of us who have already found Cedar Waxwings, Pine Siskins, Blue Jays, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, that is already a feather in our caps or a notch on the belt.

It looks like other southern flights could be in order due to the somewhat depleted cone crops, especially for those residents of the eastern part of the U.S from Lake Superior area with the exception of white pine. The spruce fruit increase from Lake Superior westbound runs in both directions for abundance in the Boreal west. The white birch cones are less plentiful across the Boreal Forest, which means redpolls are coming south. The spruce budworm’s activity in Quebec and Manitoba will attract both Purple Finches and the Evening Grosbeak to remain in that segment of North America, possibly well into the winter or later. The Red-breasted Nuthatches and Purple Finches in the east are already moving heavily southbound.

The Red Crossbill is remaining quite Boreal due to heavy white pine food sources, except the western portions of the forest. However, they could be expected around the western Great Lakes and more southerly. Expect greater numbers of types 2, followed by type 4 in the western portion of the eastern boundary to the western portal. Remember to record their flight calls for clinching their identities. You can seek assistance from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for typing purposes.

Pine Siskin numbers will comprise more bountiful numbers in the eastern half of the country, as the concentration in the western Boreal region is much heavier. Birders in the west may not encounter any this year. Eastern U.S. residents, do watch your niger feeders.

Migrant Blue Jays have been moving south in increasing numbers in the eastern half of the country. These movements will bear watching during fall migration for concentrations.

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been apparent in many southern locales since late summer and they are still arriving. Like any northern bird, this species easily acclimates to suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds at feeders. Be prepared for reasonable photographs in appropriate habitats, which include pine and spruce trees.

White-winged Crossbills should remain in the western Boreal Forest this year, which includes Alaska. However, the east will relate a marginally different story. If they come south, it will be for all types of spruce.

The Evening Grosbeak will mostly appear in the east, especially around New York and possibly even further southeast. They will seek maple and ash fruit, but will visit feeders for black oil sunflower seeds. Most of the population will likely arrive in the southwest in the largest numbers observed for decades. This is a species affected by the spruce budworm outbreak, as is the Purple Finch.

Most likely, both redpolls and the Bohemian Waxwings will remain in the northeast. However, if the both birch crops do not remain extensive, the redpolls could easily move south.    

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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