Pine Siskins offer one of the exciting moments of backyard bird feeding is the appearance of unexpected guests.
Siskins may not be the most beautiful birds at your feeder, but surely they are one of the most acrobatic and entertaining.
Known as gypsies of the bird world, siskins wander from fall through early spring in noisy flocks that may include goldfinches, redpolls and crossbills. These roving flocks may contain 50 to 1,000 birds.
It's wishful thinking to expect Pine siskins to be in any given area at any certain time of year. You may have several dozen at your feeder this winter and not one next year.
Smallest of winter finches, 4 1/2 to 5 1/4 inches long and heavily streaked above with lightly streaked underparts.
Wings and tail have yellow patches. Some are more heavily streaked with less yellow on the wings.
They can be amazingly loud as they fight one another for a perch on a feeder.
The courtship of siskins begins in January and February. Still in winter flocks, the birds begin to seek mates.
One aspect of their courtship is mate-feeding. This behavior consist of the male taking food in his bill, flying to the female, and giving it to her.
Another mating habit is a flight display by the male.
Leaving his perch close to a female the male flies up in circles with tail spread and a rapid fluttering flight, singing non-stop.
When he stops circling he drops down to perch near the female. He may repeat this flight display several times.
The nesting habits of Pine siskins as it pertains to locality are irregular.
Depending on whether there is an abundance of food supply. If food is plentiful they will remain and if food is scarce they will move on.
The nest is made of grasses, twigs, rootlets, bark strips, and lichens lined with feathers, fur, and rootlets. Placed in a tree branch (usually a conifer) 3 to 50 feet above the ground.
The female lays 1 - 5 light green-blue with
dark marks eggs, that are incubated by the female for 13 days.
The young will leave the nest about 15 days after hatching.
The Pine Siskin's natural diet consist primarily of seeds. Favorites include the seeds of conifers, birches, alders, and a wide variety of weed seeds.
Some other feeding habits include gleaning aphids from your gardens. Off tree leaves, eating the leaves and flowers off young plants, and eating young vegetable shoots from backyard gardens.
At the feeder,Siskins are attracted to hulled sunflower or nyjer seed. Hanging tube type feeders used for attracting finches and chickadees will attract these birds also.
While Pine Siskins are considered to be permanent residents in their northern and mountainous habitat, some migrate south or to lower elevations every year. When they migrate in great numbers throughout the United States it is called an irruption. They can include flocks numbering in the thousands. It is believed that a poor seed crop in their home areas causes irruptions.
If they show up in the fall, they generally arrive in a crowd. If one or two come alone, you may hardly notice them. Their unremarkable appearance helps them blend in with house finches and their sharply notched tail looks like a goldfinch. Upon close examination, however, you should be able to make the distinction between them, female house finches or purple finches.