Pine Siskin, the finch that is heard before it is seen
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The Pine Siskin is nomadic
Do not let the name mislead you; they are a member of the finch family. Due to its yellowish tint, the section of the family which it has been placed in is with the goldfinches. Probably besides resembling the goldfinches shape and actions, P. Siskins also fly with them in their flocks.
If you are familiar at all with the flight patterns of other finches, the flight patterns of Pine Siskins are very fast and high.
A flock, or 'bunch', of finches is recognized under many names’. The names of finches include "charm", "company" and "trembling".
Flocks of these birds are sociable with each other, and before you spot them visually you may hear their wheezy twitters.
Pine Siskins can store seeds for a short time, or only about 10% of their body weight. A location called the ‘crop’ which is part of the esophagus, is where the seeds are stored. In general, this is a life saver because there is much energy in those seeds. There is so much energy that it could get them through 5 – 6 hours of when the temperature is subzero.
Since it was a “small songbird related to the goldfinch” then its first name was Siskin. Next they noted that it bred mostly in conifer forests and that it usually sang in small chirps, so it was then called the “pine chirper”. They took Siskin and “pine chirper” and to see if they could combine them. Siskin and chirper basically meant the same thing so they took Siskin and pine and combined them.
Male Pine Siskin at bird bath
Female Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus)
Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus)
The size of the Pine Siskin from the top of its head to the tip of its tail is 4 1/2” – 5” (or 11.43 cm.) long. When the bird is flying its wingspan reaches a length from tip to tip of 9” (or 22.86 cm.). Their average body weight is 0.53 ounces (or 15.02525 grams).
What do you say that we start on the top surface of the male we can see that it is a darker brown, with a tint of yellow at the wings. On the underside we see that it is a lighter brown which is equally mixed with a white shade. You could say that the bird is streaked all over in different shapes and lengths of streaks of light/dark brown and white. Its bill is slightly different than a finches usually is. The reason is that usually the finches have bills which are short and a bit stubby. The male Siskin has a bill which is longer, slender, sharp and pointed. On part of the wings you can see some yellow color, and they are pointed. The tail, which also has the yellow coloring, is deeply notched. P. Siskins are smaller and slimmer than female Purple Finches (<-Hub link), the P. Finches streaks underneath are finer and the purple ones do not have the dark patch on the side of their throat, like the Siskins.
When this bird, the Siskin, is in flight is when you will mostly notice the yellow patches which are on the wings plus at the base of the tail. You can also see them when the bird is spreading its wings to show a threat display.
There is an adult which is scarce because it has a yellow tint which fills most of its white areas. The place that it appears in more frequently is the southwest.
Female: The adult female has a brown semicircle on the hearing areas and has the thin, pointed bill.
If you take a look at the auditory fields - that would be around where the birds have ears - of the adult female you then you would see a half-circle of brown color, and they also have a thin, pointed bill.
Pine Siskin feeding and drinkingClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Menu of What They Like to Eat:
There is the food of nature which the P. Siskin forages both on the ground and in the foliage for. The food is conifer seeds, weed seeds, insects, flower buds and nectar. Besides that it goes to the bird feeders, it may be in small or large amounts at once, but usually chooses only to one or two certain feeders – sunflower and thistle seed. Whenever there is a group of mixed trees, the ones that it prefers and looks for are birch, fir and alder seeds.
Instead of hopping on the ground as other birds do, they have become
accustomed to inching to the tips of cedar trees and hanging upside down to munch on the seeds. They are birds which favor the smaller seeds – such as thistle and oil sunflower, or parts of the larger seeds remaining - and every now and then suet.
For variety, you may notice them at various feeders unless you have one with mixed seeds of the seeds which they like. You see once in a while they like to 'take a vacation', so to speak, they like a change of seeds. Besides seeds they also munch on nuts and rolled oats, so keep them in stock too. You are able to purchase both of them in your supermarket for lower costs than bird stores.
Salt is another item which can be found in their diet, as with most northern finches. Looking for it, they can find it along highways, and in the supermarket if you live where there is hardly any snow, which have been covered with salt in order to melt down the snow on the highways. Methods used to melt snow and ice in the winter is ashes, salt or grit, they all have a mineral content.
The Pine Siskin builds a nest of grasses, twigs, rootlets, bark strips and lichens and then lines it with feathers, fir and rootlets, and then places it in a tree branch 3’ – 50’ above the ground.
It builds this nest from between the end of winter to the beginning of early spring for use in April through July.
The method of their egg laying:
Eggs: The mother lays an average of 3 - 4 eggs. These eggs are pale greenish-blue in color and they are speckled with dark marks; marks which are light brown to black.
In a shallow saucer of bark, twigs and moss lined with plant down and feathers. The nest is placed in a conifer tree.
The incubation period lasts for 13 days until the eggs hatch.
The fledgling period lasts for another 14 – 15 days, due to the birds being altricial. When they can be on their own, then they are allowed to leave the nest.
The parents have a brood of 2. Once they have laid their eggs twice, they are done for the present year.
Pine Siskin outside pine forest.
This tiny finch of the evergreen forest that stretches across Canada and the highland of the West is a nomad, wandering erratically in winter as far as the Gulf of Mexico.
These birds are common in large flocks, especially numerous in conifer and mixed woods (feeding on birch, fir, and alder seeds) as well as in thickets, weedy fields, brushy pastures, shrub thickets and suburban yards. Irregularly in large wandering flocks in winter.
Most of their time is spent in the cover of a compact forest, in the uncovered areas they make open flights to the ground for water, grit and nesting material.
Usually they will use up their summer time in pine tree forests.
Several P. Siskins
Their song is a mixture of trills and rapid warbles; calls include a “sweeyeet”, or a ”shreeee” trill. As it flies overhead it has a light “tit-i-tit”, with a ”weeer” descending flight call.
The song is a rapid, run-on jumble of fairly low, husky notes; generally a string of call notes like the goldfinches only more husky and harsh. Common call is a rough, rising buzz “zhreeeeee”. Flight call is a high, sharp “kdeew” and a dull “bid-bid” or “ji-ji-ji”. All of the species in the genus Carduelis are known to incorporate imitations of other species’ calls into their song. Lawrence’s and Lesser Goldfinches use many imitations, Pine Siskin use fewer, and A. Goldfinch and redpolls they use fewest.
It is your turn
Are you curious about one of their calls or have you heard a P. Siskin? Choose one.
My curiosity about them:
I believe that my strongest curiosity about Pine Siskins, since I have never seen one, is its common call. Do you remember that I described it as a sort of buzz? That sounds interesting to me. It sounds as if I could compare that more to an insect rather than a bird and I would be pleased to hear it so I would be able to tell for sure since I am familiar with several bird calls.
Pine Siskins breed from southern Alaska, Mackenzie, Quebec and Newfoundland south to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, the Great Lakes region and northern New England. In the winter, the bird wanders southward throughout the United States.
At the moment the Pine Siskin seems to be in the Least Concern range but the numbers do change. For instance, the numbers may be declining in the western states due to forest-clearing, but it may also be balancing out due to new commercially planted coniferous forests. There is also the Pine Siskin’s readiness to nest in shrubs and a different type of tree.
Besides predators like domestic cats and a few birds in the backyard, P. Siskins are vulnerable to salmonella transmitted at feeders. This is only one of the reasons to constantly keep your feeders clean.
They can be an irruptive species. There are some years they are seen in large numbers. They are also often found with goldfinches.
Usually they are seen in flocks which fly in a distinctive flight pattern; the birds alternately bunch up and disperse in an undulating flight pattern, bunching up separately.
The Pine Siskin is another part of the northern finches whose winter visits to the United States occur mainly in years when the seed crop has failed in the boreal forests. In some years, large flocks of them may appear as far south as Florida. Their principal foods are the seeds of hemlocks, alders, birches and cedars.
Pine Siskin flock nicknames
I mentioned what a flock is called, what is at least one other name?
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Author: Kevin - ©2013, updated June - 2015,
© 2013 The Examiner-1