Fall Migration Hopes

The big birding news from the entire southeast is the big irruption year that is developing. I have mentioned irruptive years before; those years where certain species move farther south and in larger numbers than in non-irruptive years. In non-irruptive years, these species may be totally absent from an entire region of the country for the entire winter. Last year, we had no northern finches, or other irruptives, whatsoever

Pine Siskin
Photo by Lee Weber


Pine siskins have been the main attraction for the last two weeks. Feeders throughout our area have been swamped with flocks of these small, streaked finches. You will know it when you get them. Flocks of 50 or more birds are not uncommon. Initial excitement sometimes turns to weariness when, like some houseguests, these ravenous flocks overstay their welcome. They can stretch a bird feed budget.

 Purple Finches
Photo by John Ennis


But pine siskins are not the only northern migrant to invade the southeast. Purple finches are here, but in lesser numbers than the siskins. That could change too. Purple finches are similar to our year-round house finches. They often occur together so have a field guide handy to help with distinguishing between the two.


Red-breasted Nuthatch
Photo by John Ennis


Red-breasted nuthatches staged a huge flight into our area by mid-September. They are still here. You may be lucky enough to get the “Nuthatch Trifecta” at your feeders; white-breasted, brown-headed, and red-breasted. The first two are year-round residents with us.

There are other species that are pouring into our area in larger than normal numbers too. Blue jays, not often thought of as an irruptive, are everywhere it seems. Various hawk-watching sites to our north started reporting large numbers of jays in early September. The same happened with red-headed woodpeckers. They are being reported in larger numbers too.

Evening Grosbeak
Photo by Phil Fowler


All of this early irruptive activity whets the hopes of area birders as to what else could be on the way as the season wears on. Evening grosbeaks may make their first solid appearance in the Charlotte area since 1995! These spectacular finches have already been seen moving south; but not occurring in the southeast yet. They are unmistakable, recalling a huge American goldfinch. You think pine siskins eat a lot? I had a flock of grosbeaks in 1995 of over 40 birds that about broke me. They really are beautiful birds.

Common Redpoll
Photo by Phil Fowler


And for the optimistic birder, dreams of a common redpoll or a red crossbill dropping into a feeder for a snack will be on our minds till spring.

Study the photos of all of these winter finches and let me know if you are seeing one of the rarer ones.