For the Birds: Pine Siskin - Finch with a pointy bill

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Text and photos by Christine Southwick

Have you seen a hoard of smallish birds at your feeders that have needle-like bills, heavily streaky breasts, and variable yellow patches on their wings? If you’re outside and can hear them communicating among themselves, the characteristic  “zzzzzoop”  will confirm the ID. You have Pine Siskin at your feeder!

These nomadic finches can be seen anytime in this area, but are most often seen here in the wintertime. Pine Siskin follow seed crops, and are especially fond of pine and other coniferous seeds. 
I'm watching you!

In winters when the Northern forest seed crops are poor, there may be thousands more Pine Siskin in our area than usual. That is called an irruptive year. They are very adaptable and will eat seeds wherever they find them-- shrubby thickets, grassy fields, and bird feeders. They’ve evolved to eating small seeds, as the shape of their narrow bills indicates.

Pine Siskin are usually found in the tip-tops of seed-bearing trees, often hanging upside-down while extracting their favorite seeds out of hanging cones. They eat alder seeds and are often found in mixed forests here in this area. They also glean spiders, insects, and grubs found on leaves and branch tips.
Aggressive stance on bird feeder

These gregarious finches fly in flocks, continually making their contact calls. They often nest close to each other in loose colonies, high up in trees, in the mountains, or much further north. Their nests, built by the females, are highly insulated, and hidden under an overhanging branch. The female sits on the eggs continually to keep the eggs warm, and is fed by her monogamous mate.

Pine Siskin employ another tactic that few birds can do. They can raise their metabolic rate to keep warm during extreme cold. And they can fuel 5-6 hours of a sub-zero night by storing seeds in their esophageal crop, and digesting the seeds as energy is needed.

Eating black-oil sunflower seeds

They will readily eat nyjer (thistle) seed and black oil sunflower seeds at backyard feeders.  Since our damp winters cause nyjer seed to clump and spoil so quickly, and Pine Siskin are susceptible to salmonella, I don’t even bother with offering that seed, but only serve black-oil, suet, and shelled seeds. I have plenty of Pine Siskin at my feeders whenever they are seen in the area. And I always supply liquid water.

Enjoy Pine Siskin when you have them.  They might not be here next year.


Anonymous,  January 13, 2015 at 5:23 PM  

I really enjoyed you article but I was caught off guard by your last sentence. They might not be here next year. Why do you feel that is a distinct possibility?

Post a Comment

We encourage the thoughtful sharing of information and ideas. We expect comments to be civil and respectful, with no personal attacks or offensive language. We reserve the right to delete any comment.
Facebook: Shoreline Area News
Twitter: @ShorelineArea
Daily Email edition (don't forget to respond to the email)

  © Blogger template The Professional Template II by 2009

Back to TOP