“Look for pine siskins this winter at your finch feeders.” (Eric Moore/Courtesy)

Earlier this spring, and even persisting into early summer, customers were lamenting that they either didn’t have any lesser goldfinches or that they were seeing fewer than they had last year.  Having been a birder for so long, I take these comments somewhat casually, as I know finch numbers increase throughout the summer months just as the hummingbird numbers do. 

I keep detailed records in an Excel spreadsheet on how many bags of each seed type we sell every week so that I know how to forecast future seed orders.  Reviewing the data in my spreadsheet, I can see that the number of both 10-pound and 25-pound bags of nyjer seed sold during the week of July 6 through 11 more than doubled over the previous week. Lesser goldfinches were back!

Since that week, nyjer seed sales have stayed very strong.  In fact, the highest week of nyjer seed sales (in pounds) so far this year occurred just a few weeks ago, during the week of Sept. 21 through 26.

Interestingly, as the owner of a backyard wild bird and nature gift store, I know what is happening out in nature by what is happening inside my store. Tracking and trending the different types of seeds we sell provides me with insight as to what bird species are currently in the area. 

While nyjer sales have been very strong since July 6, there is the possibility that they will slowly start to drop off as winter approaches — but, I could be wrong. Why? It is likely that our winter birds will be far more dependent on human-provided food sources than on a ‘normal’ year due to our poor monsoon season.

As birds migrate south in the fall, they literally fly over thousands of square miles of habitat. If they find an area with sufficient food, they will stay in that area. However, when the food source is depleted, they move on in search of more food.  This winter, if there are not sufficient food sources available out in nature, it is likely wild birds will visit seed feeders in greater numbers to take advantage of a reliable, dependable food source. 

Here in the Arizona Central Highlands region, we have two primary genera of finches — genus Haemorhous, which includes purple finch, Cassin’s finch and house finch; and genus Spinus, which includes pine siskin, lesser goldfinch, Lawrence’s goldfinch and American goldfinch. 

All seven finch species occur in the Prescott area on a seasonal basis. In genus Haemorhous, house finches are by far the most common and abundant.  Some years we get large numbers of Cassin’s finches in winter.  Purple finches are definitely the least-common variety in this genus.

In genus Spinus, lesser goldfinches are the most common and abundant year-round, followed by pine siskins and American goldfinches in winter. Lawrence’s goldfinches are the least common variety in this genus. 

Last week, I did a little birding in Flagstaff and I saw flocks of Cassin’s finches. While working at our Flagstaff store this week, I saw between 25 and 30 pine siskins on the feeders we have hung outside of the store.

I’m curious to see if we will start seeing more Cassin’s finches and pine siskins in our area as winter weather comes. Be on the lookout and keep your seed feeders filled, as it could be an interesting winter.    

As a reminder, our 12th annual Wild Bird Photography Contest exhibit is now open to the public. I invite you to come by the store to look at the display and vote for your favorite pictures.    

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona—Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.