Jan 02 2012
On Saturday I counted my feeder birds for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count. I had two goldfinches and a house finch (it was a gloomy day with few birds!) but none of the purple finches I described last week.
And no pine siskins.
No surprise. Pine siskins are winter visitors from Canada rarely seen in the City of Pittsburgh. Back home they feast on insects and the buds and seeds of pines, birches and alders but in winter they’re nomadic and irruptive, traveling in flocks whose numbers and location vary from year to year.
Pine siskins are the same size as American goldfinches and often flock with them but they really don’t look the same.
Siskins are heavily streaked in brown and have slender bills. Sometimes you can see the patch of bright yellow on the edge of their folded wings.
In winter American goldfinches are drab. They still show their wing bars and the males have faint splashes of yellow on their throats but overall they’re drab yellow-brown with pale bellies and no stripes.
Here’s a photo showing one pine siskin surrounded by three American goldfinches. The stripes give him away.
My favorite thing about siskins is their call that sounds like a fingernail run along a comb. If you hear the “zzzzzzeet” you know a pine siskin is nearby.
In my limited experience, siskins have bolder personalities than goldfinches. I’ve seen individual siskins bully goldfinches away from the feeder until they’ve eaten their fill. Sometimes this behavior attracts your attention to these visiting birds.
Pine siskins aren’t visiting yet — none were seen during the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count — but as the weather gets colder they may move into our area. Watch your feeders this month and you might find a “stripey goldfinch.”
(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)