Updated Winter Finch Forecast for 2021-22

A biologist reveals his winter finch forecast using wild food crop data. Find out what birds you can expect to see at your winter feeders.

common redpoll, winter finch forecastCourtesy Jeffry Weymier
Common redpoll

Most winters, birders in the United States can expect to see the typical feathered visitors: northern cardinals, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, etc. But occasionally, a sudden surge of unexpected birds can wander outside their typical winter range. They migrate further south than they normally would. This is called an irruption. These irruptions can be difficult to predict ahead of time. The reasons behind these surprising, sporadic migrations aren’t straightforward. (Researchers have found the causes vary from species to species.)

Biologist and ecologist Tyler Hoar predicts the irruptions of winter finches by analyzing the status of wild food crops such as spruce cones and mountain ash berries in Canada. He recently took over from ornithologist Ron Pittaway, who tracked winter finches since 2012. Tyler’s winter finch forecast is based on whether or not there is enough food to feed the hungry finches in the forests of Ontario. If there hasn’t been enough, he’ll predict an irruption of birds that will venture down into the United States to fill their bellies.

Tyler makes it clear that these are just predictions. But plenty of birders rely on his winter finch forecast to get a more accurate sense of what species to expect to see in winter. In addition to finches, he also offers predictions on the movement of red-breasted nuthatches, bohemian waxwings and blue jays.

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Bnbbyc16 Donna Keller 001
Purple finch

The 2021-22 Winter Finch Forecast

For the winter of 2021-22, Tyler’s forecast does not point to this being an irruption year. The majority of winter finches will stay up north. Tyler says, “However, there will be movement of most finches varying by species and location in the boreal forest. So you will be able to find most species, but it won’t be like last year when they came to so many people’s backyards. This year you’ll very likely need to go search for them.”

He further explains, “This should be a good winter to see finches in traditional hotspots such as Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Atlantic Canada and the northern New England states.”

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What Causes Birds Start to Migrate©Rob Ripma
White-winged crossbills are an irruptive species.

White-Winged Crossbills

He notes that birders in the United States should keep an eye out for white-winged crossbills. “With very poor cone crops reported from Northwestern Ontario westward into Alaska, two visible movements of white-winged crossbills have already been seen this summer. In Western North America, white-winged crossbills moved south into Southern British Columbia/Alberta, and Pacific Northwestern states with a few reported recently as far south as Utah.”

Crossbills remaining in the boreal forest will move around in search of food. “Thus, some movements may be seen this fall/winter into areas like the upper Midwest states as they look for suitable cone crops.”

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evening grosbeakCourtesy Donald Kaddatz
Look for Evening grosbeaks this winter

Evening Grosbeaks

Last winter, birders were treated to a “generational irruption of evening grosbeaks,” with many lucky enough to spot these birds at their feeders. Tyler predicts, “We may experience an echo flight this fall.” Learn more about how to attract this species.

Read the full Winter Finch Forecast here!

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her backyard gardens. She also is an avid bird-watcher.