A relatively common bird, the pine siskin is often confused for other types of finches and sparrows because its field marks are not as striking as many other birds. Once you recognize these small but feisty members of the Fringillidae bird family, however, you'll better appreciate just how energetic and entertaining pine siskins can be. This fact sheet has all you need to know about these fun finches!
- Common Name: Pine siskin
- Scientific Name: Carduelis pinus
- Lifespan: 5-6 years
- Size: 4-5 inches
- Weight: .4-.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 8 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
Pine Siskin Identification
At first glance, pine siskins may seem like relatively bland, plain birds, but when birders look closely, they will see many distinguishing marks. These birds have a narrow, triangular bill that is sharply pointed and may appear slightly paler on the underside. That bill is a key feature that sets pine siskins apart, but looking carefully at these birds' plumage will show even more recognizable field marks.
Both male and female birds look alike with heavy dark streaking on the white chest and abdomen and black and buff streaking on the mantle. The brown head also shows fine, delicate brown and black streaking. Thin, bright yellow bars show on the edge of the wings originating from a small lemon yellow patch. Faint yellow or buff wing bars and yellow patches at the edge of the tail are easily visible. Pine siskin green morphs are rare and have the same markings but with a deeper greenish hue. On all pine siskins, the legs and feet are dark, and juveniles look similar to adult birds but their plumage may seem more disorganized or fluffier.
For such a small bird, the pine siskin is very vocal. Typical calls include a high pitched rapid chittering as well as fast buzzing. These birds will be verbally argumentative to protect their feeding locations from other siskins, finches, or sparrows.
Pine Siskin Habitat and Distribution
Pine siskins can be found throughout the United States and Canada, and they are especially common along the Rocky Mountains and in the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest all year round. Winter populations can also be found in northern Mexico. Pine siskins readily adapt to coniferous forests and suburban areas where cone-bearing trees are present. They are also found in weedy meadow habitats and along forest edges.
Populations that breed in southern Canada will migrate to the central and eastern United States, though if food is abundant pine siskins may not migrate.
Even without full migration, these birds are generally nomadic within their range, and while they may be found in great numbers one year, the next year they could be nearly absent. They are also prone to periodic irruptions as populations and environmental conditions change.
Pine siskins are agile, quick fliers that travel in both large and small flocks and can frequently be found in mixed flocks with American goldfinches and lesser goldfinches. When agitated, these birds react aggressively with a head forward threat display, possibly raising feathers on the head or opening the bill. If another bird is too close to a feeding perch, the resident pine siskin may even snap at or grab the intruder.
Diet and Feeding
These active finches are omnivorous and eat seeds, insects, larvae, sap, and tree buds. They cling easily to mesh feeders and feeder socks, and will feed from a variety of feeder styles. They will also feed on the ground beneath Nyjer and seed feeders, and backyard birds can become tame and accustomed to human presence. While feeding, pine siskins may even dangle upside down to access preferred seeds.
Male and female birds have a monogamous relationship. The female will build a shallow nest of twigs, grasses, leaves, and lichen, lining it with softer material such as fur, plant down, or moss. The male does not usually help build the nest, but he may collect nesting material to offer the female.
Eggs and Young
Pine siskin eggs are pale blue-green and show darker red-brown spotting. Broods of 3-5 eggs require 12-13 days to incubate, and after hatching the fledglings remain in the nest for approximately two weeks while both parents care for the youngsters. The female parent will incubate the eggs but both male and female birds feed the nestlings, and a pair of pine siskins may raise two broods per year.
Pine siskins are vulnerable to brood parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds.
Pine Siskin Conservation
Pine siskins are not considered threatened or endangered, but different population studies have shown steep declines in their numbers in recent decades. Because these finches travel in dense flocks, they are particularly vulnerable to diseases spread at bird feeders, and backyard birders should take great care to clean feeders regularly to minimize that risk. Feral cats and pesticide poisoning are also threats to pine siskins.
Tips for Backyard Birders
These birds will readily visit yards where an adequate food supply can be found. Backyard birders who offer Nyger seed in tube, sock, or platform feeders, as well as offering black oil sunflower seed and a source of fresh water, will frequently be visited by pine siskins. These birds may also nibble at suet feeders. Yards with coniferous trees, natural weed seeds, and seed-bearing flowers will also be attractive to pine siskins.
How to Find This Bird
Because pine siskins readily visit feeding stations, birders hoping to see these birds can visit nature centers and preserves that stock finch-friendly feeders. Weedy fields and forest edges are also great places to spot pine siskins from late summer through winter when seeds are abundant. Watch for their active behavior and buzzy voices, and where one pine siskin is present, a birder is likely to see an entire flock.
Explore More Species in This Family
The Fringillidae bird family is a diverse group of amazing birds, with more than 220 species of different siskins, serins, goldfinches, linnets, seedeaters, grosbeaks, and finches. Birders who want to learn more about birds related to pine siskins should check out:
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