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Pine Siskin

(Carduelis pinus)
Banded November 15, 2001 - Roann, Indiana

General Information

The Pine Siskin, a member of the finch family, is closely related to the Redpoll and the Goldfinches. The Siskin is an irruptive species that can be common in some winters throughout most of North America and even into Mexico. Even though these birds occur across North America, many have never seen this bird, or having seen it, did not realize it as a distinct species.

At a casual glance, Siskins look like plain, little, brown striped sparrows that mostly confine themselves to evergreen forests. In winter months, they congregate and move about in flocks numbering from a few individuals up to thousands of individuals. They readily visit thistle seed feeders, and are often seen feeding right along with the Goldfinches.

 

The adult male Pine Siskin is grayish brown with conspicuous brown striping. The wing and base of the tail have conspicuous yellow trimming. The Siskin is about 4.5 to 5.25 inches long, and weighs about 12g (1.5 oz).

Pine Siskin, Male
Figure 1 - Pine Siskin, Male

 

Pine Siskin
 Figure 2 - Pine Siskin

 

Females and young males are more brownish with much reduced yellow.

Pine Siskins are often seen feeding at thistle seed feeders along with American Goldfinches. Unless one looks closely, a Siskin may be mistaken for a dull stripy Goldfinch. This photo shows the two species side by side, making it easy to distinguish the differences in their appearance.

 

Pine Siskin (left) and American Goldfinch
Figure 3 - Pine Siskin (left) and American Goldfinch

Pine Siskin, Female
Figure 4 - Pine Siskin, Female

 

The dark brown striping of the Siskin is readily seen in this close up from the front.

Up close, the Siskin is an attractively patterned bird. The bill of the Siskin is longer and slimmer than that of the Goldfinch, and is especially adapted to feed on seeds and insects.

Pine Siskin
Figure 5 - Pine Siskin

 

Pine Siskin wing
 Figure 6 - Pine Siskin wing

 

The yellow in the adult male wing is more prominent that in the female or the young male.

The yellow at the base and along the leading edges of the flight feathers is readily seen when the wing is extended.

Pine Siskin upper wing
Figure 7 - Pine Siskin upper wing

 

Pine Siskin tail
Figure 8 - Pine Siskin tail

 

The yellow at the base of the tail feathers is readily seen in the adult male.

Nesting Behavior

Pine Siskins breed mostly in coniferous forests of Canada and at higher elevations further south. The female, accompanied by the male, builds a cup nest of twigs and grasses from 3 to 50 feet high out on a branch of a conifer tree. From 2 to 6 eggs, incubated by the female, hatch in about two weeks. The young are tended by both parents who feed them by regurgitation. The young birds fledge in another two weeks. A pair of Siskins may produce two clutches in a season.

Banding Recoveries

According to the web page of the Bird Banding Lab, a total 582,822 Pine Siskins were banded between 1955 and 2000. Of these, 2,237 have been encountered, an encounter rate of 0.38%.

If you should recover a banded bird, you can report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

Economic Importance & Conservation Status

The diet of the Pine Siskin consists of seeds of trees such as pines, sweet gum, maple, eucalyptus, alder, birches and spruce. Weed seeds such as thistle are also taken along with many insects such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, aphids, and scale insects. By consuming many varieties of insect and weed pests, these birds perform an important service by helping to keep destructive insects under control.

Populations of Pine Siskins seem to be doing well, with population increases noted in many regions of North America.

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