Pine Siskin

Bird of the Month: Pine Siskin

By Hugh Jennings

PC: Mick Thompson (Pine Siskin)

PC: Mick Thompson (Pine Siskin)

Scientific Name: rduelis pinus

Length 5 in

Wingspan 9 in

Weight 0.53 oz

AOU Band code PISI

The genus name Carduelis (Card-dyou-EE-liss) is from the Latin carduus, thistle (eats seeds of thistle). The species name pinus (PINE-us) is Latin for pine which is its common name apparently from the siskin of Europe, a yellow-green finch. Siskin  apparently is derived from Danish sidsken  or Swedish siska, a “chirper.”

The Pine Siskin (PISI) is about 5” long with a wingspan of 9” and weight of 0.53 oz.(15g).   It is small with a short forked tail and rather long, pointed wings and a thin, pointed bill. Although it is patterned like a sparrow, its shape, actions, and call notes all indicate that this is really a goldfinch in disguise. This bird is brown above, light below and brown streaked overall. There is yellow on the wings and base of the tail, but this is not always seen on perched birds. In flight, a yellow stripe the length of the wing can be seen.

After nesting in conifer woods, Pine Siskins move out into semi-open country, where they roam in twittering flocks. They often descend on fields of thistles or wild sunflowers and cling to the dried flowers, eating the seeds. They also feed on insects, including caterpillars and aphids. Although found at all elevations, they tend to be at higher elevations in summer and descend to lowlands in winter. Numbers vary from year to year and they often irrupt in large numbers, appearing at feeders with American Goldfinch.

The song is a mixture of trills and rapid warbles. Calls include a buzzy, ascending “zrreeeee”. According to F. Schuyler Mathews book “Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music”, the call note is identical to that of a Goldfinch and the full song is a medley of notes similar to that of the Goldfinch but lacking its irrepressible jollity and “cut glass” clarity of tone – in fact, the song is decidedly wheezy.

Pine Siskins may nest in loose colonies or isolated pairs. The nest (built by the female) consists of grasses, twigs, rootlets, bark strips and lichens, lined with feathers and fur and placed on an outer conifer branch about 3-50 feet above ground. The female incubates 3-4 darkly spotted, pale greenish blue eggs for 13 days. The male feeds the female during incubation. The young depend on the parents for food and warmth while in the nest and fledge after 14-15 days.