Last Updated on October 28, 2020 by Nancie
Pine Siskins: Do you see a tiny little bird that looks like a oddly streaked goldfinch or a too small yellowish House Finch at your winter bird feeder? If it is an irruption year, you may be seeing a Pine Siskin!
Suddenly, A New Bird at Feeders
Have you noticed how often when watching birds, that just when you think, “I’m cold. It’s time to go in” or, “All I’m seeing out the window are House Finches,” that this is the time you suddenly see something new? I suspect it’s because you’ve sat still long enough for new birds to decide you are not a threat and go about their business.
If you hang out around birds in your yard a lot, all but the least skittish tend to get used to you. Most are not comfortable getting really close. But, once they are used to your habits, if you move slowly, aren’t threatening and don’t head straight for them, they’ll often settle down.
But new or more tentative birds may take a bit longer to decide to take the chance of coming feeders when you are watching. So sometimes you need to wait a bit to see something new.
Pine Siskins Among the Goldfinches
Today I was at just this point of stopping my bird watching, when I realized I was looking at something a little different. With rain expected later in the day, goldfinches have been very active at all the feeders. There are typically about forty-some of them around my yard. With so many, it’s easy to see them as a group and not as individuals. But look closely at birds you assume you have identified. Sometimes the bird you think is one thing is actually something else!
A tiny bird was clinging to the shepherd’s hook holding a hanging feeder. I thought, “Wow, that is a very tiny goldfinch . . . Wait! It’s got a streaky chest. It’s something else! Cool!” Yep, it was a Pine Siskin and it came with two friends.
While Pine Siskins are sometimes found in my area (central Maryland), they are not a bird I’ve seen in my yard before. As the name suggests, they like pines. But on some “irruption year” winters, they can show up at backyard bird feeders.
I’d seen pictures of them and watched for them, but in pictures they look a bit similar to House Finches. So I had been expecting them to be House Finch-sized. These little guys are actually smaller than Goldfinches. They are slimmer though, and have a thinner beak.
Because of the streaky chest, Pine Siskins look a bit like a too-small House Finch. But they’ve got yellow along the edges of their wings and notched tail. When they flit around you can see little flashes of yellow.
Like goldfinches, Pine Siskins like nyjer seed. Because I’ve got so many goldfinches, I have four nyjer feeders. The siskins also like sunflower hearts which I’ve got in some of my feeders too. They were in my hanging platform feeder eating them with the goldfinches.
These little guys hung around for a few days. One of them unfortunately flew into a window the next day when a hawk spooked them. My post on An Injured Bird: What to Do describes that. (Reducing Window Strikes: DIY Birdsavers Project covers what we did to help birds not hit that window in the future.)
2020: This post was originally written in 2016. It is four years later now and it is another irruption year, apparently a very big irruption year! With a shortage of food for them up in Canada this winter, there are LOTS of them in the U.S. now. Today, twenty-seven of them took over the feeders full of sunflower hearts, nyjer and even safflower in my back yard. Very cool indeed!
Learn More About Pine Siskins
To learn more about Pine Siskins, check out All About Birds’ Pine Siskin page. This site, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is an excellent source of information about birds, with pictures to help you figure out what bird you’ve seen (as well as pictures of similar looking birds in case you are unsure of the ID.) There are also recordings of their songs and calls, and lots of information about their behavior, where they live, what they eat, etc. If you like birds, it is a site you’ll want to have bookmarked.
Pennsylvania eBird also has a really interesting post about “The Invasion of the Pointy Beaked Finches” that you might enjoy.
Learn More About Maryland Birds
Check out my post on Maryland Backyard Birds.
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