This winter has been terrific for winter finches. The most impressive and special has been the push of White-winged Crossbills. While they are found nesting in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, they are very rare in southern lower Michigan; Dearborn had only a handful of records before this winter. This year, they've been found in nearly every county and in big numbers. It's unlikely an event like this will ever occur again in my lifetime. I've had big flocks in my neighborhood, even my yard, but a reliable group has been working the Douglas firs at a local office building (White-winged Crossbills specialize in soft cones like spruces, hemlocks, and some firs). Here is a male (above) and female (below) taken there by Mike O'Leary.
Pine Siskins were some of the first finches to arrive in early winter and have stayed around in large numbers -- they are often present at feeders. While a couple individuals are found every year, we have not had this type of invasion here in Dearborn since the late 1970s. Pine Siskins will sometimes nest in southern areas after a big invasion year, so I will not be surprised to hear of some breeding in southeast Michigan this summer. We have had only a handful of siskins at any one time here on campus, but scores of them at our feeders at home a few miles away. So far, we've banded over 60 the last couple of weekends. Some are dull, but some are quite beautiful when you get to take a look in the hand.
Common Redpolls have also been very abundant. On campus, they have been busy extracting the tiny seeds out of the small cones on the black alders around Fairlane Lake. Few have come to the feeders. At home, we've had only a few at our feeders as well. Here are a couple of males -- young males and females tend to have little or no pink on the breast.
I admit, I loathe winter. But knowing I could easily find and observe these special species has made going out not only bearable, but actually a lot of fun.
Last but not least is Purple Finch. We usually see a few Purple Finches every fall during migration. This fall was no exception, but we have heard few reports of many Purple Finches in the area in the subsequent months. It seems like they passed by, went somewhere else, or didn't make it this far south in any numbers. This is the only one I've seen, a male at my feeder. That's a male House Finch below it. Notice the distinct curve to the upper bill of the House Finch. It's quite straight in a Purple Finch, and a good structural clue to telling the two species apart. Here is a guide to identification.