Be Your Own Birder

Discover the Pine Siskin

A common but sometimes confusing finch, the pine siskin is a ball of energy and fierceness. Learning more about these feisty birds can help every birder appreciate their distinctiveness and how to enjoy them in the yard.

Pine Siskin - Photo by NPS/N. Lewis
Pine Siskin – Photo by NPS/N. Lewis

Pine Siskin Fun Facts

  • The pine siskin (Spinus pinus) is a member of the large Fringillidae bird family, along with more than 225 other bird species, including bullfinches, euphonias, chaffinches, rosefinches, grosbeaks, goldfinches, seedeaters, and crossbills.
  • In addition to the pine siskin, there are 19 other siskin species and many additional subspecies in the world (the pine siskin has three subspecies itself), all of which are also part of the Fringillidae family.
  • Pine siskins are birds full of angles, from their sharply-pointed triangular bills to their pointed wingtips to the deep notch in their tails. These angles, as well as the swaths of yellow on their wings and the sides of their tails, are great identification clues.
  • These birds are an irruptive species, and some years may be relatively absent at winter feeders, but in other years may seem to take over a feeding area. Their population and movement fluctuations are typically tied to northern cone seed crops, but can still be unpredictable.
  • Winter pine siskin flocks can be aggressive, especially around feeding areas. They may snap and lunge at one another, even grabbing and tugging at the feathers of a bird that may get too close.
  • While pine siskins eat mostly seeds, they will also sip at the wells drilled by sapsuckers, and may sip flower nectar in the spring. They’ve even been known to visit hummingbird feeders, and will snatch insects out of the air. In winter, pine siskins often nibble at salt and mineral deposits on the side of plowed roads, and in summer, they occasionally eat berries.
  • Pine siskins have unusually high metabolic rates, roughly 40 percent higher than typical songbirds of the same size. They can even raise their metabolism more when temperatures drop. This helps pine siskins survive cold temperatures and fuels their feisty behavior.
Defending the Food - Photo by Joel Huntress
Defending the Food – Photo by Joel Huntress

Adding the Pine Siskin to Your Life List

Once you recognize these birds, you’ll start to see them everywhere within their range. Though they may be small, they travel in large flocks, and aren’t hard to spot. Look for pine siskins in weedy fields or scrubby thickets, as well as in coniferous forests where cone crops are abundant, particularly cedar, spruce, larch, alder, fir, birch, and hemlock. In the trees, pine siskins often stay higher up, but will flitter about as they forage, even dangling upside down as they pick at seeds. They can be noisy and may be heard before they’re spotted. They readily come to feeders offering Nyjer seed or hulled sunflower seed, and they’re adept at clinging to mesh nylon or metal feeders. They are especially common at feeders in winter, and have irregular irruptions that can bring huge numbers of pine siskins for hungry visits.

Learn More About the Pine Siskin

There are many great resources to help you learn even more about these amazing birds, including…

Pine Siskin in the Flowers - Photo by Aaron Michael
Pine Siskin in the Flowers – Photo by Aaron Michael

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