Pine Siskin

Scientific Name
Spinus pinus
Conservation Status
Least Concern (LC)

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Wikipedia Article

The Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) is a North American bird in the finch family. It is a migratory bird with an extremely sporadic winter range.
Adults are brown on the upperparts and pale on the underparts, with heavy streaking throughout. They have short forked tails. They have yellow patches in their wings and tails, not always visible; otherwise, they appear to be very small streaked American sparrows. Measurements: Both sexes - length 11-14cm (4.3-5.5") - wingspan 18-22cm (7.1-8.7") - weight 12-18g (0.4-0.6oz).
Pine Siskin in its typical morph is a drab bird, whereas European Siskin, in many plumages, is much brighter. Adult male European Siskins are bright green and yellow with a black cap, and an unstreaked throat and breast; Pine Siskin does not have a corresponding bright plumage. Adult female European Siskins also usually have green and yellow plumage tones: for example, yellow in the supercilium and on the sides of the breast, green tones in the mantle and yellow in the rump. Adult Pine Siskins of the typical morph do not have green and yellow tones, although juveniles can have a yellowish-buff wash on their underparts and buff-toned wingbars, for a short period prior to their autumn migration. The ground colour of the underparts of European Siskin is normally pure white, whereas on Pine Siskin it is usually a dirtier colour. In female and juvenile European Siskin, the centre of the belly and lower breast are often largely or entirely unstreaked, whereas in most Pine Siskins the streaking extends across the whole of the underparts. The wingbars of European Siskin are broad and yellow (with the tips white) whereas they are normally narrower and buffish-white in Pine Siskin, contrasting with the bright yellow flash at the base of the primaries. Pine Siskins have a longer bill, usually with a straight culmen, compare with a short bill in European Siskin, with a decurved culmen. There is a green morph of Pine Siskin, closer in appearance to European Siskin; these birds make up only 1% of the population. These are closer in appearance to female European Siskin, but differ in that they have a yellow-wash on the undertail-coverts (white on European Siskin), no yellow in the supercilium, reduced underparts streaking, and much yellow at the base of the tail and remiges; there may also be a difference in the extent of yellow in the underparts but this needs further study.
Their breeding habitat is across Canada, Alaska and the western mountains and northern parts of the United States. The nest is well-hidden on a horizontal branch of a tree, often a conifer. Migration by this bird is highly variable, probably related to food supply. Large numbers may move south in some years; hardly any in others.
These birds forage in trees, shrubs and weeds. They mainly eat seeds, plant parts and some insects. In winter, they often feed in mixed flocks including American Goldfinches and redpolls. Small seeds, especially thistle, red alder, birch, and spruce seeds, make up the majority of the Pine Siskin's diet. In summer, they will eat insects, especially aphids, which they feed to the young, but seeds dominate their diet.
Although considered Washington's most common finch, the Pine Siskin has suffered a significant annual decline in population since 1966, according to the Breeding Bird Survey. Due to the irruptive nature of this species, populations vary widely from year to year, and trends can be difficult to interpret. Parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds can have a significant impact on Pine Siskin productivity, and forest fragmentation has increased their contact with cowbirds. Maintaining large tracts of coniferous forest will help keep this bird common.
• The name Siskin is derived from an adaptation of the German dialect words sisschen, zeischen, which are diminutive forms of Middle High German (zîsec) and Middle Low German (ziseke, sisek) words, which are themselves apparently of Slavic origin. • Pine Siskins are very social birds. They will build nests adjacent to each other, with only a few feet in between them. • When eating from conifers, the Pine Siskin usually hangs upside down from the tips of the cones.
• The Eurasian Siskin, C. spinus is the ancestor of Pine Siskin, Antillean Siskin, C. dominicensis, and Black-capped Siskin, C. atriceps. The sub-species C. pinus perplexus may be closer to C. atriceps; they both thrive in the Guatemalan-Mexican altiplano.