Seeing a lot of finches at your feeders this winter? Well, make sure you take time to STOP and LOOK and you may find SISKINS!
According to just about every WBU customer here in Saratoga Springs NY, and supported by Project FeederWatch data, Pine Siskins have invaded the northeast as well as many other areas of the country. Flocks of over 100 birds have been reported at backyard feeders as far south as Georgia and Florida.
Siskins are a "winter finch", a loose grouping of birds that live in the pine forests of Canada during the summer. If winter food supplies such as pinecones, seeds and berries become scarce, these finches will periodically migrate south in search of more abundant food. This year has brought larger and more widespread Pine Siskin populations than have been reported in recent memory.
How do you know that siskins are at your feeder? The Pine Siskin is a member of the finch family and looks and feeds like the familiar American Goldfinch. STOP and LOOK at the finches at your feeder and if you see a small bird that looks like a goldfinch with streaks or stripes, it might be a Pine Siskin.
American Goldfinch - winter
Under closer examination you will notice these differences between the goldfinch and the siskin:
- Siskin is brownish with darker streaks that cover the head, face, back, breast and sides
- You might notice a yellow wing bar on the siskin wings and some yellow in the tail feathers. Though the yellow is seen while perched or in flight, sometimes it is not so visible.
- The siskin bill is pointier than the goldfinch
- Though their streaking is similar to sparrows, sparrows lack yellow on their wings and tail
- Common Redpolls are similar but also lack yellow on their wings and tail. Redpolls also sport a red forehead.
Take some time to watch the Pine Siskin's behavior as well. It is very different from goldfinch behavior. Here's what I notice:
- They are not as "spooky" as goldfinches. They will stay in a nearby tree when you refill feeders and do not fly off as quickly as goldfinches when you approach.
- They are more aggressive towards other birds, as well as other siskins.
- One siskin may dominate a feeder by opening their wings (to look big!) or chasing another bird off as they approach a feeder.
- I've seen multiple siskins on a single mesh feeder but they definitely don't feed shoulder-to-shoulder like their relatives the Common Redpolls.
- Though I do see goldfinches feeding with Pine Siskins, there are always more siskins than goldfinches and the goldfinches back away from every aggressive encounter with a siskin.
Pine Siskins spreading wings to intimidate other siskins at feeder
Look at the siskin on the bottom trying to intimidate the other one.
What should you feed Pine Siskins? Niger seed (thistle) seems to be their favorite but they will also eat sunflower chips, black oil sunflower, WBU finch blend (niger and fine sunflower chips), WBU Supreme Blend. Just about any seed that doesn't have a hard shell like striped sunflower. I've also seen them eating safflower and from a WBU Supreme Fare seed cylinder.
You can serve up niger in a WBU mesh feeder that allows you to see siskins clinging to the mesh in any position - sideways, even upside-down.
Here's more tips on feeding Pine Siskins:
- Clear snow and ice away from feeders to provide open ground for them to forage on seeds dropped beneath feeders.
- Clear snow under shrubs and near the house on the south and east sides to give birds a place to seek shelter. Your juncos will appreciate this too!
- Place feeders near sheltered areas to prevent wind exposure and a place to flee if a predator approaches.
Pine Siskin Fun Facts:
- Pine Siskin become considerably plumper through accumulation of fat with the onset of winter. Each bird can pack enough seeds into its expandable esophagus to sustain itself for an extra five hours overnight...even when temperatures are below zero degrees.
- Some irruptive siskin may stay near a dependable food source and nest far south of the normal breeding range.
- The primary natural foods of Pine Siskin are the seeds of hemlocks, alders, birches, and cedars.
- Pine Siskin, like most northern finches, are fond of salt. They seek out natural salt licks and in the winter can be found along roads eating road salt.
- Siskin, crossbills, and other finches have been observed eating flaking mortar as a source of calcium and sodium.
- Pine Siskins are often heard before they are seen. Their call has a distinct rising buzzy tone that can be described as sounding like zhree-e-e-e-eeet!
Read even MORE fun facts in our last Bird of the Month post.
All this activity at your feeder is a great time to call upon your powers of zen attention as you look for and observe this new bird in your yard! Have a Pine Siskin behavior or story to tell? Use the comment section to share it!