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The birds of winter are beginning to appear in Peterborough and the Kawarthas

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Some of my favourite backyard birds during fall and spring migration are white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. These migrants arrive each year right on schedule — almost to the day — and feed on the millet I scatter on the ground. Despite my best attempts at coaxing them to stay, however, most will have moved on by early November, headed for the warmer climes of central and Southern U.S. Some of the void left by the sparrows' departure is filled by dark-eyed juncos. More and more are now arriving every day. Large numbers of juncos will spend the winter in the Kawarthas, along with resident species like chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals and mourning doves.

Although the juncos and resident birds provide ample winter entertainment, what birders and backyard feeder enthusiasts really hope for is another wave of avian visitors — the so-called winter finches. These species, which breed primarily in the boreal forest of northern Ontario, are noted for their erratic migrations in search of tree seed crops.

Because their nomadic ways are an adaptation to the ups and downs of seed production, the appearance of winter finches in central Ontario is no guarantee. They can be here one winter and completely absent the next. If seed crops are good in the north, the birds stay put. Conversely, if the northern seed crop fails, they will sometimes fly thousands of kilometres to find food. In years when seed production is especially low, finches often turn up in the Kawarthas as early as mid fall. This is what happened last year when siskins and redpolls started arriving in late October. Later in the fall, evening grosbeaks also moved into our area in numbers not seen for years. When finches descend upon our region, they readily come to feeders, especially if nyger and black oil sunflower seeds are on the menu.

The seeds and berries that finches depend upon most are those of birch, mountain-ash, pine, spruce, hemlock and tamarack. Many factors affect seed crops, including early and late frosts, too much or too little precipitation, insect pressures and disease. These factors often result in seed production being reduced or completely aborted over hundreds of kilometres. Other influences seem........

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