Dec 12, 2018 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, December 2014

Look for Pine Siskins

Pine siskins are year-round residents of the Rocky Mountains and west-central Canada, but throughout most of the United States, pine siskins are a winter-only visitor. Because they resemble more familiar feeder birds, many backyard bird enthusiasts might be hosting them without realizing it.
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Are there pine siskins at your thistle feeder? They're easy to overlook, since they are streaky brown, like female house and purple finches, but have wing bars like an American goldfinch. They often turn up in flocks with their finch cousins, and blend in, unnoticed. Keep an eye out for a small, finely streaked finch with yellow at the base of a notched tail. That's unique to pine siskins, as is its slender bill—much smaller than that of its cousins. The yellowish wing bars are sometimes difficult to see when the bird is perched. When it flies, look for a flash of yellow in the wings.

Pine siskins are year-round residents of the Rocky Mountains and west-central Canada, but throughout most of the United States, pine siskins are a winter-only visitor. Because they resemble more familiar feeder birds, many backyard bird enthusiasts might be hosting them without realizing it.

They are partial to thistle seed at bird feeders, but in the wild, have a varied diet that includes pine nuts (inside pine cones), the seeds of ash and other trees, and weed and flower seeds. Pine siskins will be grateful if you leave your flower stalks standing throughout the winter.

Siskins are an "irruptive" species, one that turns up in huge numbers some winters, but is scarce in others. Their travels depend more upon food availability than on weather. Siskins are highly nomadic and unpredictable in winter, too, so if you spot them at your feeder one day, don't be confident that they'll be there the next—although they might be!





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  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021