Now common in winter in southern Ontario, American Goldfinches were once rare here in winter. The increase in wintering goldfinches is linked to the tremendous rise in bird feeding. In winter, goldfinches are inconspicuous and much less vocal than in summer, usually giving only low te-te-te notes. The bright yellow "Wild Canary" of summer disappears in winter because the adult males molt into a female-like plumage.
This spectacular grosbeak was very rare in Ontario 100 years ago. It now breeds here and is a regular but uncommon winter finch in the province. Populations were very high during the 1970s and 80s when spruce budworm outbreaks were at their maximum across the boreal forest. The larvae are eaten by adults and fed to young. It has been recorded on 34 of 39 Algonquin Christmas Bird Counts. In Haliburton County where I live, the Evening Grosbeak is called "Skidoo Bird" because the males are gold and black. In the Ottawa area, they are known as "Greedies" because at they fight with one another and other birds while devouring millions of sunflower seeds. Their loud ringing cleer and clee-ip calls, sounding like glorified House Sparrows, are distinctive. First year males are like adult males, but they can be separated at close range by the blackish inner margins of their tertials. As with other winter finches, the males tend to winter farther north than females, which explains why many flocks have fewer males in the south.
Like crossbills, siskins wander the continent in search of
conifer seeds. They forage less often on alder, birch and in
weedy fields. Most years the majority of siskins leave
Ontario for the winter. However, when spruces and other
conifers are laden with cones, siskins winter in large
numbers. Recorded on 29 of 39 Algonquin CBCs, high
numbers of siskins in Algonquin Park occur about every five
years. Siskin flocks can be identified at a distance by their
distinctive flight formation. They swirl in tight compact flocks
whereas redpolls fly in loose undulating flocks. Through
binoculars, you can see flashes of yellow in their wings and
tails. Siskins silhouetted on top of a spruce can be identified
by their very long sharply pointed bills. Siskins give a
wheezy clee-ip call that is the best way to identify them in
flight. Perched birds often give a long rising
buzzy shreeEEEE call that is unique. As spring
approaches, siskins are heard singing a twittering series of
husky and buzzy notes. They sometimes breed in March
when snow still covers the ground. At feeders, siskins relish
nyger seeds. They are aggressive, fighting with one
another, goldfinches, redpolls and even taking on Purple finches.
Irruption Species You'll Find in the Countryside:
There are 10 call types of the Red Crossbill in North America that may be separate or newly evolving species. They differ in size, bill size/shape, coloration and cone preferences. In Ontario, at least three (probably more) call types occur and breed from time to time. Most types prefer pines, but Type 3 prefers Eastern Hemlock and White Spruce. Type 2 is resident in small numbers in the extensive Eastern White Pine forests of northeastern Algonquin Park. Another visiting type prefers Red Pine forests. Type 3 occasionally wanders in large numbers from the west to Ontario and breeds here. It is the smallest Red Crossbill with the smallest bill, even smaller-billed than the White-winged. Red Crossbills give hard jip-jip calls. The song is a series of loud whistles and interspersed warbles, richer and more varied than the White-winged Crossbill. Red Crossbills have been recorded on 27 of 39 Algonquin CBCs.
Like a pendulum, White-winged Crossbills move back and forth across the coniferous forests from Alaska to Newfoundland searching for cone crops. The range of the White-winged Crossbill is much more boreal than the Red Crossbill. The two species normally do not form mixed flocks. Males usually are pinker than Red Crossbills. The White-winged Crossbill's small bill is adapted to opening the small cones of spruce and Tamarack. Black Spruce is a key winter food in lean years because it has regular cone crops and usually some seeds are held year-round in long lasting cones. White-wings sometimes feed in hemlocks, but almost never in pines. When White Spruce cones are abundant in Algonquin Park, White-winged Crossbills usually are common and they are singing if they are going to nest. They have been recorded on 33 of 38 Algonquin CBCs. The song is a long series of loud canary-like trills on different pitches. They give a dry strident cheet cheet calls. A distant flock sounds like redpolls, but the notes are more rapid and often interspersed with a diagnostic loud musical peet. Unlike the Red Crossbill, the calls and appearance of the White-winged Crossbill are uniform across the continent.
They have been recorded on 35 of 39 Algonquin CBCs, but
they are much less frequent on Toronto counts. Pine
Grosbeaks are a mountain-ash specialist. They irrupt into
southern Ontario when Showy Mountain-ash and American
Mountain-ash berries are poor in the boreal forest.
Grosbeaks eat the seeds inside the berry, discarding the
flesh. They also eat the buds and seeds of hardwoods and
conifers. In settled areas, they feed on European Mountain-
ash, crabapples, sumac and visit bird feeders for sunflower
seeds. Except in irruption years, Pine Grosbeaks rarely occur
in flocks of more than 10 birds in southern Ontario. Larger
flocks are seen in the north. Bright rosy adult males are in the
minority in most flocks. First year males look like females, but
some are distinctly burnt-orange (instead of yellowish-olive to
russet) on the crown and rump, often with a splash of burnt-
orange on the breast. They are often tame and sit still for long
periods, hence the name "Mope" in Newfoundland. When
excited, they flick their wings and tail. The commonest call is
a whistled tee-tee-teu. It is easily imitated and will decoy
them in closely, especially single birds. Pine Grosbeaks
migrate north earlier in spring than other finches, usually
leaving Algonquin by late March.