The pine siskin is a winter visitor to Oklahoma, and can be quite common, but not always.
These little finches may be scarce some years, and then abundant during others. Last week, I mentioned that this is an irruption year — in my opinion — for many species of birds, and that includes pine siskins.
Many Oklahoma residents have reported via social media to seeing pine siskins this fall, and, I have seen quite a few recently as well — up to two dozen siskins daily visiting my feeders.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that pine siskins range “widely and erratically across the continent each winter in response to seed crops.”
The Cornell Lab also reports that the erratic irruptions of pine siskins may not be entirely random, that banding data suggests that some birds may fly west-east across the continent, while others move north-south.
And speaking of banded birds, if you happen to see (and/or photograph) a pine siskin with a numbered leg band, it can be reported, if you wish. Just be sure to record the band number, the location, the date, and call toll-free 1-800-327-BAND (2263) to report the sighting.
The phone number can also be used to report any bird species with a leg band.
According to the Cornell Lab, following a large irruptive winter flight, some pine siskin individuals may stay near a dependable food source and breed far south of the normal breeding range.
At 4.5 to 5.5 inches in length, pine siskins are about the same size as American goldfinches, with which they often feed together. They are brown and streaky overall, and have tinges of yellow coloring on the wings and tail (see photos). They have wingbars, which are usually buff, but may also have yellow coloring as well. The tinges of yellow can vary from quite a bit to nearly nonexistent.
These finches have sharp, pointed bills which I would describe as thin. They are similar in appearance to female house finches and, to a lesser extent, female purple finches. However, house and purple finches are larger, and have large, conical seed-eating bills.
Pine siskins can be found all over Oklahoma — and the United States, really — during the winter months. Their breeding range covers much of the western half of the continent, and over much of Canada.
According to the Cornell Lab, pine siskins favor feeding in open forest canopies where cone seeds are abundant. However, they’ll also forage in habitats such as deciduous forests and thickets, meadows, grasslands, weedy fields, roadsides, chaparral and backyard gardens and lawns.
Pine siskins, as the name suggests, enjoy the seeds of pine trees, but also consume seeds from a plethora of plant life such as as cedar trees; elm, willow and maple trees; grasses; dandelions; chickweed; sunflowers; and ragweed.
To attract them to your feeders, offer Nyjer (African yellow daisy seed, commonly sold in stores) and hulled sunflower seed. They will also eat black oil sunflower seed still in the shell, but it is harder for them to get to the kernel inside.
Editor’s Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at email@example.com.