11 December 2011

A Siskin Surprise

This morning, I was looking out the window at our feeders and was pleasantly surprised to see a Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus), the first individual of this species that I've seen at our feeders this fall/winter. I later found a second individual as well.

Pine Siskin (above) and American Goldfinch (below)

Note the differences in the photos above and below between the Pine Siskin and the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).  The other species with which a Pine Siskin could potentially be confused is a female House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), but the beak of the Pine Siskin is more sharply pointed, Pine Siskins are smaller than House Finches, and Pine Siskins usually have some yellow pigment in some of their feathers, most often on and/or behind the wing bar.

Pine Siskin (above) and American Goldfinch (below)

Like many other finch species that breed in Canada and only visit the continental United States in winter, Pine Siskins are considered an "irruptive" species.  This means that in some years, environmental conditions lead to large numbers of individuals of these species in areas further south of their normal range.  The Pine Siskin is the most common of these irruptive species, with a winter range extending in some years south into Central America.

Pine Siskin

We've had Pine Siskins at our feeders the past several years, with more in some years than in others, and with birds present for a longer period of time in some years.  I enjoy their presence, even though they can eat a tremendous amount of black-oil sunflower and thistle seed.  Hopefully they stick around all winter, and hopefully some of their irruptive relatives show up this year as well.


Beth said...

I'll have to start watching our feeders more closely for these little guys. I have yet to see one, but they do look awfully similar to female house finches, so I may have had them visit and didn't realize it. A very helpful post!

Scott Namestnik said...

Glad I could help! Be sure to watch for Common Redpolls as well, as they can look somewhat similar.