Ron Pittaway, a Canadian field ornithologist, is famous among birders for the forecast which he publishes each fall indicating the status of various finches and other irruptive bird species and the likelihood of whether they will wander farther south during the coming winter. Mr. Pittaway's projections are based on the availability of food that the finches like, mostly the cones of evergreens. In years when the cone crop is sparse, the birds tend to wander farther south. When a bountiful cone crop occurs, the birds will stay closer to home.
Mr. Pittaway's forecast for the coming winter is now out and, if it proves to be correct, we probably won't be seeing any unusual irruptions of these winter birds this far south this year. It seems that the cone crop in the boreal forests of the north have been pretty good this year so there seems little reason for the birds to travel too far south.
His projection includes such birds as the Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, and Red-breasted Nuthatch that are familiar to our area, as well as many finches, like Evening Grosbeaks, the Common and Hoary Redpolls, and the Red and White-winged Crossbills that are unlikely ever to come this far south. In truth, his forecast is mainly meant for Canadian and Northeastern U.S. birders anyway, but I always find it interesting to read.
We've been lucky in the last two or three winters in getting a good irruption of Pine Siskins along with our dependable influx of American Goldfinches. A couple of years ago, I also had Red-breasted Nuthatches in the yard during winter, the first time I had recorded them here. I can expect to see Purple Finches perhaps every two or three years. It's been a couple of years since I've seen one in the yard, so maybe this winter will be their time to return. The coming of the winter birds is just one more reason to look forward to the changing of the seasons.