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Winter bird prospects sound better for UP

Northwoods Notebook

NOT A WINTER finch, but a migrating male American redstart warbler made for a pretty photo among fall foliage. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

An annual report that tries to predict where certain songbirds might spend the winter months sounds promising that several feeder favorites could turn up in the region.

Last winter was a poor one for seeing many of the “winter finches,” as Canada and other regions in fall 2019 had abundant natural food sources — known as “mast” — including nuts, berries and other fruit.

Indications are this year’s mast supply is not as good, with the cone crops averaging “poor to fair” from Lake Superior eastward, according to the Winter Finch Forecast 2020-2021.

“Winter finches” is a loose term used for a variety of cold-weather-tolerant birds — not just finches but red-breasted nuthatches, Bohemian waxwings and even blue jays. These all are species that can show mass movements based on conditions — both north-south and east-west — to ensure they have adequate food during the lean winter months.

The Winter Finch Forecast, posted by Tyler Hoar of the Finch Research Network, is based in Ottawa, Canada, and notes it applies more to Ontario and adjacent provinces and states east, so Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin would be on the far western edge.

Still, it can be a good indicator of general movement trends. Last year’s report predicting few winter finches would turn up proved true.

The Winter Finch Forecast for 2020-21 indicates:

— Purple finches, all but absent last year, are expected to migrate south this year, and already are showing up in some Canadian border states.

— Evening grosbeaks appear to be moving southwest from eastern Canada, so the prospects of seeing some of these black-and-yellow beauties here sound better than last winter, when the irruption seemed more focused in the east.

— Common and hoary redpolls — sparrow-like birds with touches of red — were more difficult to predict. Some parts of Ontario had good swamp birch that could keep them north, but if those supplies are depleted, the birds could have a “moderate to good flight south out of the boreal forest.”

— Some pine siskens are expected to come south, although not as many as should end up in western Canada,

— Pine grosbeaks, which look like overgrown purple finches, probably will remain north, to take advantage of a good mountain ash crop, but poorer spots could lead to some small movements.

— Red-breasted nuthatches — well, those already are here, with numbers likely to grow. The forecast notes that “individuals have made it as far as Oklahoma and Alabama.”

For all but the pine siskens, which like the American goldfinch prefer niger and thistle seed, a supply of black oil sunflower seeds, especially on a platform feeder, should draw these winter birds in, even the more elusive pine grosbeaks.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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