The periodic movements of large numbers of pine siskins from one region of the continent to another – movements known as irruptions – make it difficult to assess populations, but experts feel they may be declining in parts of their range.
Species: Pine siskin
Scientific name: Carduelis pinus
Claim to fame: Bald eagles aren’t the only birds from northern areas that visit Missouri in winter. This small northern bird is known for its winter visits to Missouri.
Species status: The periodic movements of large numbers of pine siskins from one region of the continent to another – movements known as irruptions – make it difficult to assess populations, but experts feel they may be declining in parts of their range.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the pine siskin was written in 1810 by Alexander Wilson, whom is often called the “Father of American Ornithology.” The travels of the Scottish-born naturalist throughout the eastern U.S. in the early 1800s led to the discovery of 39 new bird species and the publication of the nine-volume “American Ornithology,” a pioneering book of New World bird studies. The famed naturalist John James Audubon later said it was an 1810 meeting with Wilson that gave him increased passion to study birds.
Family matters: Pine siskins belong to the bird family Fringillidae; a group of species commonly referred to as the grosbeaks, sparrows, finches and buntings. This family consists of 245 species worldwide.
Length: four to five inches long
Diet: Pine siskins prefer small seeds; especially red alder, birch and spruce seeds. In summer, they will eat insects, especially aphids, which they feed to the young, but seeds are a staple.
Weight: not available
Distinguishing characteristics: Pine siskins are small birds with brown streaks on their backs and wings and are paler underneath. Males usually have yellowish stripes on their wing tips and tails, but the distinctness of the yellow can vary from one bird to the next. Pine siskins have short, notched tail. Pine siskins form flocks year round, and winter flocks may be quite large. They can be very common at bird feeders in urban areas. (Sometimes, these dense concentrations are a method for spreading salmonella when the feeder isn’t regularly cleaned.) Pine Siskins are active foragers and climb about nimbly when foraging in forest canopies and hedgerows and have been known to hang upside down from branches. The most characteristic call of a pine siskin is grating, upwardly inflected “zreeeet.” They can also make raspy, chittering calls.
Life span: unavailable
Habitat: Pine siskins most often breed in open coniferous forests. They also prefer conifers in migration and winter.
Life cycle: Summer nesting and brood-rearing activities take place in Canada and some parts of the northern U.S. They may nest in loose colonies or in isolated pairs and breeding activity is more closely tied to the food abundance than to season. Nests are well hidden on horizontal branches well away from the trunk of a conifer tree. The female builds a large, shallow cup of twigs, grass, bark strips, rootlets, leaves, and lichen, lined with moss, plant down, hair, and feathers. The female incubates three to four eggs for about 13 days. The male brings food while she incubates eggs and she broods the young for the first few days after they hatch. After that, both parents bring food. The young leave the nest after 13 to 17 days, and the parents continue to feed the young for about three more weeks.