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Siskin { Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 9, 2015




The Siskin, Spinus spinus { sometimes referred to as Carduelus spinus} belongs to the Passeriformes {perching birds} order of birds and the family Carduelidae within that order. { they are sometimes placed in the family Fringillidae in some books}.

The scientific name of spinus derives from the Greek spinos-a bird described by Aristophanes and others.

In the UK they are placed on the Green list of consrvation concern { no current concerns} with an estimated 410,000 pairs in summer,here they are classed as resident breeders and passage winter visitors. They are also Green listed in Ireland. {source BTO}.

The European population in summer is estimated to be between 2-6 million pairs at it is provisionally estimated to be secure. Populations vary from country to country there follows some selected examples.

The Austrain population is estimated between 30,0000-140,000 Breeding Pairs {BP}. Belgium 160-1,100 BP. Croatia, 5,000-10,000 BP.France 500-2,500 BP, Germany 25,000-100,000 BP. Russia {the whole of} 8-12 million pairs. Sweden 500,000-i million BP. Ukraine 14,000-20,000. BP. {source Birdlife}.

They are birds that breed in Northern Eurasia,and winter south to Southern Europe and central Asia. They are inhabitants of woodland.

Siskin and habitat

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley | Source

Description of the Siskin

Siskin's are about four and three quarter inches long {12 cm } and weigh between 12 -18 grams.

The adult male has the general colouring on the upper parts Olive green,with darker shaft streaks.the rump much more yellow,showing the shaft streaks distinctly at the junction with the lower back. the crown of the head is black, the wings are black the coverts tipped with yellow, the flight feathers with white diffused borders to the inner web excepting towards the tips. The primary feathers narrowly margined with yellow and, excepting the first three, with broad yellow bases,forming a belt which extends across the secondary feathers.

The central tail feathers are blackish,the remainder yellow,with black shafts and broad blackish tips. A broad eye stripe extending from above the eye to the nape. The lores are blackish, the sides of the face greenish yellow. The belly is white, the flanks a sordid yellow colour streaked with black. The feet are pale brown , the iris dark brown.

The female is slightly smaller and has a broader crown than the male. She is altogether duller and greyer in colouring with less yellow on the rump, wings and tail,and with the under parts much more streaked. She also has no black on the crown or chin.The young are duller and greyer still than the female.

Siskin visit a bird table. Courtesy of PC King. Standard You tube License https:/

Siskin on Pines


Siskin will visit garden feeders


The Pine Siskin of North America

Taken at a home feeder.
Taken at a home feeder. | Source

General and historical information

The Siskin can be found across the greater part of Eurasia and the north of Africa. Its breeding area is separated into two zones each side of the Palearctic,ecozone,the east coast of Asia and the central and northern parts of Europe. The Eurasian Siskin is sometimes encountered in North America where there is also a closely related species -the Pine Siskin, Spinus pinus .

In the UK during the summer months it is chiefly confined to coniferous woods especially those in the north of England and Scotland,although they do breed less commonly at lower levels.

Butler {1800's},relates, " I am tolerably sure that they have bred in Kent {southern England},near the lakes,where there is a belt of tall conifers,for I saw a pair there in June 1886,and heard the male singing its sprightly song,with its unmistakable hurdy-gurdy finish"

In the winter the distribution is much more general across the UK. It is a bird particular fond of pine woods during the breeding season, though in winter they roam in flocks { sometimes large flocks },which reach the south of England by September. The Siskin is an extremely restless bird and in my opinion they are very similar in their actions and characteristics to those of the Tit Family.

Their flight is rapid but irregular,like its song ,which is regarded as being superior to any other British finch, despite its hurdy-gurdy finish. Mr.J Husher , made notes on this species and states. " In April and May,1857,Siskins were unusually uncommon at Coppagh,in the woods of fir,both on the low ground and on the hill side,in fact the woods are continually ringing with the song of this bird. You might here it as it flies over the wood uttering its peculiar cry,half chirp,half song. At one time flying straight forward, as if to some destination,then turning and making a circuit, as if it did not know its own mind,or if it was loath to descend from its joyous flight,then again dashing off in a new direction,whilst its notes would gradually die away."

" Its every movement is full of animation and delightful,as it were besides itself with pleasure. This is particularly the case in the breeding season,at which time I have seen the male flying slowly to the top most spray of a fir tree,pouring forth his delightful little warbling song,which very much resembles that of the Goldfinch, but is to my ears much sweeter. It very often sings when flying,but more frequently when perching on some fir tree top. Indeed in spring the Siskin seems more like a visitor from a happier world"

The Siskin feeds largely on the seeds of weeds,beech mast,pine and other coniferous trees,but in the breeding season will capture large numbers of invertebrates . They hang in a variety of attitudes and flit from bough to bough in search of food. They are very companionable birds with each other,going in flocks or in association with other species such as Linnets**.

**This species has already been reviewed in this series.

Courtesy of Jan van den Hardenberg. Standard You Tube License

Keeping wild birds was once a popular past time


Siskin in captivity

In the day before it became illegal to keep wild birds in captivity {with a few licensed exceptions} it was wide spread hobby. Bird catchers made a good living procuring birds by any means {usually with nets}, and selling them to bird keepers and to the markets as food. As this is part of our avian history the next few paragraphs allude to this era.

An old name for the Sisikin is Aberdevine and Butler relates that they were generally called 'Appy-divine' by the London Bird catchers,and one man who called on him occasionally used to always ask him if he wanted any 'Abbies' !

During the 1800's the birds that had left their breeding grounds and headed south were eagerly awaited by the Bird catchers who netted considerable numbers to sell as cage birds or as food for markets. Butler, relates, " The Siskin is one of the most charming aviary birds on account of their wonderfully confiding nature. I turned a pair which I had purchased in November.,1889,about three weeks after their capture,into a large aviary,and,in three days, they had so thoroughly learned to trust me, that they flew into my hand and disputed over poppy seed and egg."

" One of these birds lived for three years,and would even permit me to raise my hand until my nose touched its beak,when she would fly off to a twig,and return directly I held my hand out to her again.There were two hens and a male in this trio,and the male outlived both his wives. Finally he appeared to have acquired a growth in his throat,which obstructed his breathing. Therefore as my experience of doctoring birds is, that nineteen out of twenty cases, it kills them within ten minutes. I thought I would give my Siskin the opportunity to doctor itself. Thus I turned him out into my garden,where he remained for half an hour then flew straight away."

Butler went on to affirm, " i have had many other Siskins at various times ,sometimes three or four pairs together. They have always become very tame in a surprisingly short space of time,and have altogether been delightful pets, but most of them died within a few months. Siskins do not seem to have the constitution of most Goldfinches."

" One tame little hen bird,however, lived to a good age,and, when she lost three husbands in succession,I caught her and made a regular pet of her.After six months I wearied of the extra labour { every extra separate cage adding to my time occupied caring for my large family},I therefore turned Cissie,as I called her,into one of my bird room aviaries,but she had forgotten all about liberty,flew wildly against the wires in the greatest terror and presently settled down in a corner with her face to wall ,having evidently decided that life was no longer worth having. I therefore picked her up and restored her to her cage, where she sat looking stupid for half an hour before she recovered"

" I subsequently gave this bird to a young lady,who christened her Priscilla,and made much of her to the day of her death about a year later"

Female Siskin


Eggs of the Siskin


Siskin Nest and Eggs

The Siskin usually places its nest high up near the end of a lateral branch of a conifer tree or birch tree,or even at the top near the main trunk. It is neatly constructed of moss and rootlets upon a slight foundation of heather and grasses.The lining consists of vegetable down,horsehair and some times a few feathers. It is further strengthened by the use of Spiders web interwoven into the structure.

One ornithologist made the following observations " Like all true finches the hen bird builds the first nest and incubates alone,although the male tries to help and only succeeds in hindering"

The eggs number from five to six and are remarkably like those produced by the European Goldfinch in size,colour and markings which tend to vary. they are bluish green, usually pale spotted and dotted,and sometimes streaked with dark chocolate brown. The eggs are incubated for a period of twelve to fourteen days by the female.

When the chicks in the nest,are at first covered with a black down. They are fed a nutritious diet of insects and are ready to leave the nest in a further thirteen to fifteen days. the parents usually go on to raise another brood.

The young males after the first moult has the black on the head margined with brown and the colours are less bright than when they are mature.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb yes they are no doubt very similar in their habits. Both are wonderful birds. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I met a beautiful little Pine Siskin in November of last year, as I recall and got a great photo. Thanks for the additional details, which, no doubt, apply to our birds, as well.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika, your kind words and encouragement help very much to keep me going. Thank you too for all the votes and as always much appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Unusual and so interesting about birds of Europe. You have shared your knowledge about another beautiful bird. Always a worthy read and informative. I admire your way of presentation here. Voted up, useful, interesting and beautiful.


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