Updated Winter Finch Forecast for 2022-23

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.

Track the Migration of Winter Birds

Bnbbyc19 Nancy Tully 1Courtesy Nancy Tully
Look for pine siskins and other winter finches on bird feeders

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 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 birds to look for in winter.

The 2022-23 Winter Finch Forecast

Bnbbyc17 Robin Edwards 1Courtesy Robin Edward
Red-breasted nuthatches are already showing up at backyard feeders.

Tyler’s forecast for the winter of 2022-23 indicates that birds will be on the move in large numbers, including grosbeaks and purple finches. Tyler says, “In eastern North America, westward to northwestern Ontario and upper midwestern states, there should be a flight year for several species.”

In addition to tracking winter finches, he also predicts this to be an irruptive year for red-breasted nuthatches. “With mostly poor cone crops in the eastern boreal forest, expect this species to continue to move southward.”

Purple Finch

Bnbbyc16 Donna Keller 001Courtesy Donna Keller
Purple finch

Tyler says purple finches will be seen by birders in large numbers this year. “Many purple finches will migrate south from Eastern Canada this winter. Early movement of this species southward has been occurring for weeks.”

Check out 20 super pretty pictures of finches.

White-Winged and Red Crossbills

What Causes Birds Start to Migrate©Rob Ripma
Look for white-winged crossbills on spruce cones

Birders in the western United States should keep an eye out for white-winged crossbills. “The crossbill pendulum has swung west for this winter,” Tyler says.

However, he also reports that red crossbills are “currently quite common in eastern Massachusetts, along the coast of Maine and the southern Maritime Provinces. There are modest numbers in the Adirondacks, Algonquin Provincial Park, over to the upper Great Lakes.” Tyler says he expects that red crossbills will “migrate down the coast to Long Island, Cape May and Delaware and points south.”

Why do birds flock together in winter?

Evening Grosbeak

evening grosbeakCourtesy Donald Kaddatz
Look for evening grosbeaks this winter

Tyler says, “This stocky charismatic finch appears to be on the move this winter.” His research indicates that birders should expect flights of evening grosbeaks into border states this fall, and “some birds may go farther south into the United States than usual.” To attract them, offer black oil sunflower seeds on large platform feeders.

Pine Grosbeak

winter finch forecastCourtesy Dave Shaffer
Pine grosbeak in a crabapple tree

Tyler reports that birders in the upper Midwest, eastward to New England, should see movements of pine grosbeaks. “Flocks of hungry grosbeaks searching for fruiting ornamental trees and well-stocked feeders with black oil sunflower seeds may be seen in urban areas,” he says.

Learn how to help birds in cold winter weather.

Common Redpoll

common redpoll, winter finch forecastCourtesy Jeffry Weymier
Common redpoll

Watch for common and hoary redpolls on your nyjer and black oil sunflower seed feeders this winter. “There is a potential for a moderate to a good flight south out of the boreal forest,” Tyler says.

Next, discover the best birding hotspots for incredible winter birds.

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 is certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener and is also a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.