Living Bird Magazine
Pine SiskinSpinus pinus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Fringillidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Jilguero de Los Pinos (Spanish)
- Tarin des pins (French)
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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- Following a large irruptive winter flight, some individuals may stay near a dependable food source and breed far south of the normal breeding range.
- Bird-banding projects are invaluable for tracking migrating birds, even though few bands are ever recovered for small birds like siskins. Nearly 675,000 Pine Siskins were banded between 1960 and 2011; fewer than 2,000 were later found. By contrast, about one-quarter of the nearly 5,000,000 geese banded in the same period were recovered.
- Pine Siskins get through cold nights by ramping up their metabolic rates—typically 40% higher than a “normal” songbird of their size. When temperatures plunge as low as –70°C (–94°F), they can accelerate that rate up to five times normal for several hours. They also put on half again as much winter fat as their Common Redpoll and American Goldfinch relatives.
- Pine Siskins protect their eggs from cold damage, too. The nest is highly insulated, and the female remains on the nest continuously, fed by the male throughout brooding.
- Pine Siskins can temporarily store seeds totaling as much as 10% of their body mass in a part of their esophagus called the crop. The energy in that amount of food could get them through 5–6 nighttime hours of subzero temperatures.
- The oldest recorded Pine Siskin was at least 8 years, 8 months old when it was found in Michigan in 1966. It had been banded in Pennsylvania in 1958.
- Every couple of years, Pine Siskins make unpredictable movements called irruptions into southern and eastern North America. Though they’re erratic, these movements may not be entirely random. Banding data suggest that some birds may fly west-east across the continent while others move north-south. Learn more about Pine Siskin movements at Project FeederWatch.