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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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Songs

Males string together husky, whispering trills, slurs, and short ascending notes into songs lasting 3–13 seconds. Songs are generally more nasal or wheezy than those of other finches. Song phrases are sometimes punctuated by "watch-winding" or "churry" notes (see Calls Description). Adult males can continue to add songs to their repertoires.

Calls

Pine Siskin flocks are constantly atwitter with wheezy contact calls while feeding or in flight. Their most recognizable call is a "watch-winding" note, a harsh, upsweeping zreeeeeeet lasting most of a second, tossed in amidst shorter calls. They utter a distinctive flight call, an explosive zwee or psee that initiates startled flight. In flight, a tit-a-tit call often accompanies each flap-and-glide undulation. A single siskin can call back the flock with a solitary note. Females solicit copulation by uttering soft calls while bowing and fluttering tail and wing feathers. The female solicits feeding from the male with a low twittering call that carries well through the trees.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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