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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