Pine Siskins are on the move throughout North America! With these large flocks sure to bring excitement to thousands of bird feeders, are you fully prepared for a large number of avian guests?
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What is a Pine Siskin?
The Pine Siskin is a small bird that belongs to the finch family Fringillidae. It is scientifically known as Spinus pinus and is commonly found in North America. These tiny, lively birds are easily recognizable by their brown and yellow streaked plumage, often with subtle yellow patches on their wings and tails. They primarily feed on seeds, especially conifer seeds. They are often seen in pine forests, open woodlands, and gardens with flowering plants full of seeds. These sociable birds are highly migratory and often travel in large flocks, especially during winter. Despite their small size, they produce cheerful chirps and showy acrobatic flights, making them a delightful sight for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.
Where are Pine Siskins found?
Pine Siskins are a migratory species that can be found throughout North America all year round. During the breeding season, which usually lasts from April to August, they are primarily found in the northern parts of the continent, including Alaska and Canada. However, these small birds can migrate as far south as the southernmost parts of the United States during the winter months, including California, Arizona, and New Mexico. They can be found in nearly all U.S. states, Canadian provinces, territories, and parts of western Mexico.
In the United States, Pine Siskins are commonly found in the northern parts of the country, including Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine. However, they can also be found in other parts of the country, particularly during migration. During the winter months, they can "irrupt," leading to large flocks of individuals appearing in regions where they are less common.
In the eastern part of the United States, Pine Siskins are often found wintering in coniferous forests, roosting in dense branches. However, they can also be found in deciduous forests, particularly during irruptions and migration. In the western part of the continent, they are commonly found in mountainous regions and in open woodlands, where they are frequently year-round residents.
In Canada, Pine Siskins are generally found in all provinces and territories (minus Nunavut), from British Columbia and Yukon in the west to Newfoundland and Labrador in the east. They are widespread in the boreal forests that cover much of the country's northern regions.
In Mexico, Pine Siskins are found in the mountainous regions of the country, particularly in the central and southern parts. They are known to breed in the Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre del Sur mountain ranges.
Overall, Pine Siskins are a highly adaptable species that can be found in a range of habitats throughout North America. Whether in the northern forests of Canada or the southern deserts of the United States, spotting these lively birds is a fascinating experience for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.
How to identify a Pine Siskin?
Pine Siskins can be easily overlooked in finch flocks, as all Pine Siskins appear similar to the female finches of the House Finch, Purple Finch, and Cassin's Finch. These birds are all "little brown birds" with streaking down their breasts, often leading to further confusion with sparrows. Fortunately, the Pine Siskin is far smaller than these other three finches, aiding in identification when flocked together. Additionally, the Pine Siskin bill is far more petite and pointed than the larger finches, as their diet comprises tiny seeds. Finally, the Pine Siskin has big flashes of yellow in their wings, and while it is most visible when in flight, streaks of yellow can be visible in the flight feathers when the wings are folded.
Why do Pine Siskins show up in large numbers during the winter?
When food is scarce, many species of finches are known to range farther abroad than the typical bounds of their ranges. These food shortages are often quite expansive, leading to MASSIVE movements of birds, called irruptions. Irruptions are typically cyclical, leading scientists to forecast when and where the flocks of finches can be found. The most thorough of these forecasts is the Winter Finch Forecast. This unique forecast predicts the significant movements of winter finches. It comes out every fall to prepare bird lovers for the masses of birds about to descend upon their feeders. The 2023/2024 forecast predicts movements of Pine Siskins in the thousands, and recent counts on Lake Superior yielded a single flight of over 7,000 Pine Siskins!
What foods do Pine Siskins eat?
Pine Siskins are primarily seed-eating birds, and their diet consists mainly of seeds from various forbs and trees. They have a particular preference for the seeds of conifers, including hemlock, larch, white cedar, pines, spruces, and firs. However, they also eat seeds from deciduous trees such as birch and alder. They can often be seen perching on branches and twigs, using their sharp beaks to pry open cones and extract the seeds inside.
In addition to seeds, Pine Siskins also consume insects and other small invertebrates, particularly during the breeding season when they need to provide protein-rich food for their young. Insects are a minor but significant portion of their diet when the arthropods are available.
Pine Siskins visit bird feeders in residential areas, especially during the harshest winter months when food is scarce. Filling these feeders with Nyjer or finch seed or black oil sunflower seed is the easiest method to attract Pine Siskins during all seasons, especially during winter's irruptions.
What types of bird feeders attract Pine Siskins?
Pine Siskins are known to visit different types of bird feeders in residential areas, especially during winter when food is scarce. Here are some of the feeders that Pine Siskins are known to eat from:
- Tube feeders: These feeders are long, narrow tubes with feeding ports and perches. Pine Siskins are attracted to tube feeders filled with Nyjer seeds or other tiny seeds in Finch Food blends, such as canary seed.
- Hopper feeders: These feeders are box-shaped and have a roof that protects the seeds from the weather. Pine Siskins are known to eat from hopper feeders filled with sunflower seeds or mixed seed varieties.
- Mesh feeders: These feeders are designed to hold thistle or nyjer seeds in a mesh bag. Pine Siskins are attracted to mesh feeders that allow them to cling to the mesh and extract seeds.
- Platform feeders: These feeders are flat and open, with a raised edge to keep the seeds from spilling. Pine Siskins are known to eat from platform feeders filled with sunflower seeds or mixed seeds.
Overall, Pine Siskins are opportunistic feeders that will eat from various feeders as long as they contain their preferred food sources.
What types of plants attract Pine Siskins?
A yard full of native plants is an excellent complement to providing a food source for Pine Siskins. One of the best types of plants to attract siskins is a conifer. Planting conifers serves a multi-purpose for Pine Siskins, providing food, roosting space, and even nesting habitat for these little finches. For those unable to wait for conifers to grow to maturity, planting seed-bearing flowering plants may offer a quicker solution! Native sunflowers and other asters (even dandelions) are always great options to provide for these winter tourists.
Pine Siskin movements can vary wildly from year to year. The winter forecast for 2023/2024 brings excitement for a mass influx of these adorable finches. Prepare your homes, yards, and bird feeders to help our visiting feathered friends!