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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Pine Siskin

Spinus pinus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Flocks of tiny Pine Siskins may monopolize your thistle feeder one winter and be absent the next. This nomadic finch ranges widely and erratically across the continent each winter in response to seed crops. Better suited to clinging to branch tips than to hopping along the ground, these brown-streaked acrobats flash yellow wing markings as they flutter while feeding or as they explode into flight. Flocks are gregarious, and you may hear their insistent wheezy twitters before you see them.

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Keys to identification Help

Finches
Finches
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Pine Siskins are very small songbirds with sharp, pointed bills and short, notched tails. Their uniquely shaped bill is more slender than that of most finches. In flight, look for their forked tails and pointed wingtips.

  • Color Pattern

    Pine siskins are brown and very streaky birds with subtle yellow edgings on wings and tails. Flashes of yellow can erupt as they take flight, flutter at branch tips, or display during mating.

  • Behavior

    Pine Siskins often visit feeders in winter (particularly for thistle or nyjer seed) or cling to branch tips of pines and other conifers, sometimes hanging upside down to pick at seeds below them. They are gregarious, foraging in tight flocks and twittering incessantly to each other, even during their undulating flight.

  • Habitat

    Although Pine Siskins prefer coniferous or mixed coniferous and deciduous forests with open canopies, they are opportunistic and adaptable in their search for seeds. They'll forage in weedy fields, scrubby thickets, or backyards and gardens. And they'll flock around feeders, especially thistle feeders, in woodlands and suburbs

Range Map Help

Pine Siskin Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Long wings and short tail
    • Slender, sharply-pointed gray/black bill
    • Streaky brown overall
    • Bright yellow visible on folded wings
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, January 2010
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Small, short-tailed finch with long wings
    • Slender, sharply-pointed bill
    • Streaked brown overall
    • Bright yellow often visible on wing-bars and folded flight feathers
    • © Dave Wendelken, Lakewood, Virginia, December 2010
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Small, streaky finch
    • Brown streaks darkest and most dense on breast
    • Very slender, sharply-pointed bill
    • Bright yellow on folded wings
    • © Jeff Loomis, Pennsylvania, February 2009
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Small finch with short tail and long wings
    • Streaky brown overall
    • Pale wingbars
    • Bright yellow visible on folded wings
    • © Laura Erickson, Duluth, Minnesota, May 2011
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Small, short-tailed finch
    • Streaky brown overall
    • Bright yellow on folded wings
    • © maia bird, Bristol County, Massachusetts, February 2011
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Small, long-winged finch
    • Streaked brown overall
    • Very thin, pointed black bill
    • Bright yellow visible on folded wing
    • © Brian L. Sullivan, Carmel Valley, California, September 2010
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Small, short-tailed finch
    • Streaky brown overall
    • Pale wing bars
    • Bright yellow visible on wings and tail
    • © Will Sweet, Sharon, Massachusetts, February 2009
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • Slender, pointed bill
    • Streaky brown overall
    • Pale wingbars
    • Bright yellow on folded wing
    • © Laura Erickson, Duluth, Minnesota, January 2009

Similar Species

  • Adult female

    House Finch

    Adult female
    • Larger and stockier than Pine Siskin
    • Thicker, conical bill
    • No wing bars
    • No yellow coloration on wings or tail
    • © Robert Strickland, Florida, September 2009
  • Adult female

    Common Redpoll

    Adult female
    • Paler than Pine Siskin with snowy white belly and undertail
    • Dark red patch on forehead
    • Some yellow on bill
    • Streaking confined to sides of breast only
    • © Stuart Oikawa, Manitoba, Canada, February 2011
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Yellow-rumped Warbler

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Stockier than Pine Siskin
    • Bill smaller and flatter than in Pine Siskin
    • Yellow on rump and breast instead of on wings
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Laredo, Texas, January 2011
  • Nonbreeding male

    American Goldfinch

    Nonbreeding male
    • Stockier than Pine Siskin
    • Thicker bill
    • No streaking on breast or back
    • Yellow on face and chin
    • © Carole Hickey, Pennsylvania, December 2010
  • American and Lesser Goldfinches with Pine Siskins

    American Goldfinch

    American and Lesser Goldfinches with Pine Siskins
    • Pine Siskins more slender than Goldfinches
    • Siskins heavily streaked on breast and back, Goldfinches unstreaked
    • Siskins with thinner and pointer bills than Goldfinches
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 2008

Similar Species

Female House Finches are heftier than Pine Siskins, with a much thicker bill and a longer tail. House Finches lack yellow in the wings and tail. American Goldfinches are slightly larger than Pine Siskins. Although they can show yellowish tones in winter, they never have the bold streaking on the breast and back that is a hallmark of the Pine Siskin. Common Redpolls have shorter, stubbier bills than Pine Siskins and they tend to be paler than Pine Siskins, with no yellow in the wing. Also, Common Redpolls typically have a small black patch at the base of the bill.

Backyard Tips

Pine Siskins flock to thistle or nyjer feeders and other small seeds such as millet or hulled sunflower seeds. They may hang around whole sunflower seed feeders if heavier-billed birds are messy eaters and drop seed bits. If your yard has plants or weeds with hardy seed heads, such as dandelion, Pine Siskins may feed there as well. They will occasionally eat suet.

Find This Bird

Spot Pine Siskins clinging to the ends of conifer branches, even upside down, to feed at cones—or look for an exceptionally streaky, small-billed finch at your feeder. Also, listen for a distinctive, harsh "watch-winding" call (also likened to the sound of slowly tearing a sheet of paper in two) amidst their constant flock twitters. Over much of the continent, Pine Siskins can be abundant one winter and gone the next.

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