Friday, 7 December 2012

Seeing Yellow at Your Bird Feeders

White Winged Crossbill - All About Birds

This fall/ early winter seems to be giving us some pretty good hints about what will be around the bird feeders this winter.

Already, birders are seeing winter finches making their appearance in southern Ontario and points south. The so-called winter finches do not show up every winter, because their nomadic travel patterns are determined by the seed crops available to them in northern forests. Not only the seeds of pines and spruce, but also the seeds of hardwood trees, are important winter foods to the winter finches in their normal northern range. Some years, the food supplies in the north are lacking, so many of the birds move south for the winter to find what they need.
Red Crossbill - All About Birds

Not all of the so-called northern finches are finches, but bird watchers sort of clump a number of them together. Generally, we are talking about White Winged Crossbills, Red Crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and Evening Grosbeaks.

Winter finches share a couple of common behaviours. They generally are gregarious, hang out in groups and are nomadic and follow the food. In years when food is lacking in the north, many move south.

Pine Siskin - All About Birds
One of the most nomadic and unpredictable of the winter finches is the Evening Grosbeak. It is also one of our most beautiful birds. Its nesting range is generally from Algonquin Park and north, and, for the last two decades, very few Evening Grosbeaks have been seen in Southern Ontario.  This winter may be a chance for most people — especially Hamilton youths — to see their first ever EveningGrosbeak. The males sport bright yellows, whites and browns in their plumage. The females and juveniles are more subdued.

The Evening Grosbeak is always calling, which makes the lives of bird watchers much easier. We hear them flying over or chattering to one another when they are feeding. To learn their song, go to

Pine Grosbeak - All About Birds
Where will you find them? One of their favourite foods after your feeder is the seeds of Manitoba Maples and ash trees. They also enjoy the trees that hold onto their fruits, like Highbush Cranberry , Mountain Ash and wild crab apples.

The Evening Grosbeak has been selected by the American Birding Association as the Bird of the Year for 2012.  And now it’s coming south to live up to its name.

Once people start to know this bird is around, the sales of bird feeders and sun flower seeds will surely increase. They are just delightful to watch and to listen to. The Grosbeaks have heavy beaks and are adept at eating seeds and breaking open the pits of Choke and Pin Cherries. Few other birds have the strength in their bills to open these pits.
Common Redpoll - All About Birds

Bob Curry, author of Birds of Hamilton, reports that in 1972 there was a major flight of Evening Grosbeaks through Southern Ontario, but, since then, the bird has become rare in Hamilton and surrounding areas. Between 2002 and 2005 only two of these fine birds were seen in the Hamilton Bird Study Area.  So far this fall, birders are starting to report sightings from across the northeastern United States and Southern Ontario. So we are well on our way to seeing a strong showing.

Evening Grosbeak - All About Birds
The Evening Grosbeak is the easiest of the winter finches to identify. This winter, keep a bird guide handy while watching your backyard feeder, because there is an excellent chance that other winter finches will be showing up along with the Grosbeaks. There are excellent feeding areas for the winter finches throughout Hamilton conservation areas. As we hear about them, we will try to let everyone know where to look. 

Don’t be surprised if they show up in your neighbourhood.

HCA Manager of Operations & Customer Service 

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