Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches

I think we've moved quickly past fall and firmly into winter. We had our first real snow at the beginning of the week (just a few inches), and the weather's been unrelentingly frigid and windy since then, with highs in the 30s during the day and lows in the single digits at night. So yes, hello winter!

All the birds in our yard are active in this wintry weather, especially around our feeders, and the finches are making a particularly strong appearance. Yesterday, I was surprised and happy to see that some new winter visitors have blown into our yard. Look, Pine Siskins!

My first thought when I saw one these birds was actually "wow, why is that goldfinch so stripey"? They really are remarkably similar to American Goldfinches, just about exactly the same size, with similar finchy mannerisms and dark barred wings. We've had goldfinches at our feeders for weeks now, so of course that was my first assumption about the ID of these small brown birds. But no, once I payed attention, these were no goldfinches. American Goldfinches look quite different, as several nearby handsome individuals made clear:

I've seen Pine Siskins only a few times before -- once during a winter visit to Paul's family in New Jersey, and again on a vacation in Utah -- and while these birds wander into Connecticut in small numbers in the winter, I never did see them while I lived there. And they're not common in Ohio either. So it's exciting indeed to have these northern birds visiting our Ohio yard! I'm really liking their yellow-accented wing feathers and pointy beaks:

Quite a subtly pretty bird:

The best surprise has been that the black oil sunflower seeds we put in our window feeders have been such a hit with the various finches in our yard. I'd thought that finches only went for smaller seeds (like thistle), which we don't offer, but the American Goldfinches, House Finches, and now Pine Siskins seem to like the sunflower seeds perfectly well:

Another fun surprise: I've noticed in recent weeks that the American Goldfinches are really bossy at our feeders, frequently chasing off larger Tufted Titmice and holding their ground with raised wings and open beaks. But now the Pine Siskins are here, and apparently they hold rank over even the goldfinches. If a siskin's at the feeder, it's going to stay there for as long as it darn well pleases, and if it wants a seed on the other end of the feeder, well the other birds had better get out of the way. I have way too much fun watching these various birds interact. Here's a video of one of the ultra-bossy Pine Siskins doing its thing (don't mind the somewhat dirty window):

Hooray for snow and winter birds! Who knows what fancy visitors will show up next.


  1. Hi Elizabeth! I just wanted to let you know that your photos of the pine siskins helped me identify the pine siskins at my feeder this morning. This is very exciting! At first, I thought they were house finches, because they were feeding as I was fussing with my camera. But as I looked through my photos tonight, I noticed the smaller beak and the yellow bar on the wing and knew I needed to do some research. Maybe I'll get my photos on my blog tonight. I am having a hard time getting back into it. I hope you have a very successful winter with your bird watching!

    1. Hi Stacy, I'm glad my pictures were helpful! Thanks for the comment, and good luck with your own blogging!