Working to protect the Mississippi River and its watershed in the Twin Cities area

Send to Friend

FromTo


Send to a Friend from Friends of the Mississippi River

Winter Finches

by Tom Lewanski

The finch family of birds, or Fringillidae, is a very large group of birds that are found throughout the world, except Australia. The birds in this group are small to medium large with rather short, conical-shaped beaks (or bills) and ginormous jaw muscles with which they slay and disembowel seeds (Hey, I’m trying to make seed eating sound exciting in this digital gaming world). Our finches belong to the cardueline group (no, guh!). At this merry, holidayish time of year, when it gets all snowy and coldy and stuff, many of us who get our avian freak on, are on the look-out for the elusive winter finches.

The winter finches are those in this group that spend much of the year up north, as in Northern Minnesota and Canada and then migrate south during years when the plants that they rely on for food produce few seeds. These finches are irruptive migrants, meaning that it is difficult to predict when or even if they are going to migrate.

So, which birds are we specifically talking about? A few of the winter finches are:

  • Hoary and Common Redpolls — These are small, sparrow-like birds, which are difficult to tell apart. Both have black chins and a bright red crowns. Their sides are streaked.
  • Red and white-winged crossbills – The bills of these birds are, as their common name implies, crossed. This is an adaptation to pry conifer (primarily spruce) cone scales apart so they can get at the seeds on the inside. The male of the red crossbill has a dull red head and body, with dark wings and tail. The female has a dull yellow head, breast and rump. Both have a short forked tail.
  • The white-winged crossbills have white wing-bars but are otherwise similar to the red crossbills.
  • Pine siskin. This small brown bird is heavily streaked and has two buff-colored wing bars. A distinctive feature is that they have yellow at the base of the flight feathers and at the base of the tail.

There are many reasons to get out into the winter wonderland. Searching for and watching winter finches are other great reasons. Why not introduce a young person to the wonders of birding. As a public service, I have provided an example of how a parent might talk to the youth of today about birding in general and specifically about looking for finches in a way that will get their attention.

Dawg, whas’ crackulatin? 411, when out avian, please don’t get all up in the feather’s grill, a’ight? So, ease up. Some of these finches are bangin and fougazie! I know that I am always cakin on the finches. They get me stoked.

It’s best if you are new to this activity to go out with a beast that can show you, otherwise you might be bent on the finches. The beast should be bustin on identification. They can up your game. If you see a crossbill it’s a big dilly, boo-yah! You’ll be cheesin cause you be getting the hook up. Keep in mind that the finch might be bobo. It could be one of the others, so be careful.

Here’s to having a bookoo of winter finches this year! They are boom ting. They should bubble in January & February. Keep in mind that it is now brick out so dress up. Also, when avian around other’s cribs, be careful. The owners might think you are creepin’ and buggin and call 5-0. You feel me? Read more…