Every few years there is an irruption of Pine Siskin out of the Northern Boreal Forests due to a lack of natural foods. This winter is shaping up to be a great year to see Pine Siskin at backyard feeders.
Often feeding with American Goldfinches, siskin are quite attracted to finch feeders that offer Nyjer®. They can also be seen eating sunflower chips from other feeders and, as finches do, drinking from birdbaths.
Pine Siskin, at first glance, are often assumed to be American Goldfinches when visiting feeders in winter. And for good reason. They are the same size and have similar winter color patterns. However, take a closer look and you can tell them apart. Here are some identification clues for quickly telling if there are any Pine Siskin on your feeder.
- Heavily streaked head and body
- Yellow or buff in the wing bars, wings, and base of tail
- Thinner, more sharply pointed bill than goldfinch
- No streaking
- White or buff in the wing bars
- White rump or base of tail
Check out the photo below. Can you spot any Pine Siskin?
American Goldfinch (top left)
Pine Siskin (lower three perches)
Top photo: Pine Siskin (left), American Goldfinch (right)
Photos by Nancy Castillo (co-owner Saratoga Springs, NY WBU store)
Click here to see where Pine Siskin are being spotted this season via eBird.org. It is an interactive map where you can zoom in, change dates and more.
Do you have Pine Siskin at your feeders?
Just like we change some of our habits for winter, birds can behave very differently in winter compared to summer.
Each morning I wait with my youngest daughter at the bus stop. As the sun is pulling into the sky, without fail, flocks and flocks of American Robins fly overhead. They are leaving their overnight, congregational roost and heading out to feed together. Normally found alone or in pairs in the summer, it is easier to survive the winter in a group than on their own.
Individual territories are no longer being held by Northern Cardinals; they are flocking together for night-time roosting and day-time feeding parties. When it comes to visiting busy backyard feeders, they prefer to be the so-called “early birds” beating the morning rush. They also like to wait till the evening rush is over and be the last to visit backyard feeders.
Watching a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos at feeders is a fascinating business. Almost like a concentric ring of circles, each winter-flock of juncos has a dominance hierarchy. The adult males are often in the prime, center spot of a food source followed by juvenile males, then adult females and finally young females. This is why many female juncos travel farther south than most of the males; less competition for food.
American Goldfinches also have a dominance hierarchy; however, it changes between summer and winter. Female American Goldfinches are dominant over males in the summer (presumably because they do the nest building, egg laying and brooding) and appear to be subservient to males in the winter.
Take a closer look at bird behavior at your feeders this winter. What changes do you see?