Since it seems that we're going to have Pine Siskins around this winter (and maybe A LOT of them!), here's the Top 5 ways to prepare for siskins and welcome them in your yard.
Niger (aka thistle or Nyger®) is attractive to finches and siskins because of its high oil content. But niger tends to dry out within a couple months, making it less desireable to the birds. It can look fine to us but if it's dried out, birds won't come to it.
If your niger seed (whether it's in the feeder or in the seed bag) is more than a few months old, start FRESH with NEWLY PURCHASED seed from a store that you know has FRESH seed. Believe me - it makes a difference! And when you buy niger, purchase it only in quantities that you'll go through within a couple months.
#2 - Offer Multiple Finch Feeders
Finches like siskins, goldfinches, and redpolls are sitters. Unlike our chickadees, they don't take a seed from the feeder, leave the perch, open the seed and come back for more. No, finches sit there and occupy a perch, sometimes for minutes on end. That's a good thing!
To welcome the most siskins to your feeding station, add another finch feeder. Hang it in the same area, but allow some space between the feeders for the healthiest birdfeeding.
When winter finches like siskins visit en masse, it's an ideal time to hang a mesh finch feeder. They'll cling on the feeder picking niger seed through the mesh, and you'll enjoy seeing them sideways, diagonally, and even upside down.
#3 - Know a Pine Siskin from a Goldfinch
If you're feeding goldfinches right now in Saratoga County or in the northeast US, I bet you already HAVE siskins on the feeder and maybe just didn't know it was them!
Siskins feed right amongst the goldfinches, are the same size as goldfinches, and at first glance have the same wing markings at goldfinches. So you might look out at your feeders and think you just have a lot of goldfinches! LOOK AGAIN!
Siskins are streaked from head to tail, front and back. You might notice a bit of yellow in their wings and/or at the base of their tail. Their bill is a bit pointier than the goldfinch. They also have a bit more attitude than our goldfinches - they can be a little feisty at feeders.
Go check your finch feeders right now - do you have siskins?
#4 - Keep Feeders Clean
Take time RIGHT NOW to clean your feeders. Use the standard drill: 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Rinse really well. Air dry.
Then, mark your calendar now to clean your feeders once to twice a month throughout the winter. Also clean the ground beneath the feeders by raking up the debris and bagging it up for the trash.
If you find that your feeders are so hard to clean that you hate cleaning them, buy easy-to-clean feeders. Our WBU Quick Clean finch feeders make cleaning easier, and then you'll be more likely to clean your feeders regularly. Our WBU EcoClean antimicrobial feeders inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and other microbes on treated feeder surfaces.
#5 - Monitor the Health of your Birds
At the tail end of our last Pine Siskin irruption (in the spring of 2009), we heard many reports of sick birds at feeders. Folks reported puffed up birds (and not just puffed up to insulate from the cold) that were lethargic and approachable, and that may have exhibited labored breathing and/or swelling around the eyes.
These birds may very well have had Salmonella, which finches like siskins are especially susceptible to. Salmonella exists at low levels in the wild bird population but outbreaks can occur, especially during winter finch irruptions.
We can help break the cycle of this disease amongst birds by first noticing afflicted birds. If seen at your feeders, as hard as it is to do, your feeders need to come down for a period of time to let the birds disperse. Continuing to feed may cause the disease to spread to other birds more easily.
Follow this advice from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology if you suspect Salmonella at your birdfeeders. And ALWAYS (sick birds or not) wash your hands after handling a birdfeeder.
Do all these Top 5 things and you'll have the right setting for loads of healthy and happy Pine Siskins. Now just sit back and ENJOY THE SHOW!!!