The winter finch forecast predicted that the pine siskins were likely to stay up north to take advantage of a good conifer seed crop across much of western Canada. As some of you may know, they are one of our more adventurous and erratic winter visitors, unpredictably moving considerable distances in search of food. I do not think there are enough of them at our bird feeders to indicate an irruption this winter. But they are keeping me busy stocking our feeders with sunflower and thistle seeds.
Siskins are not the most colorful birds at our feeders, but they are no less entertaining. For those of you unfamiliar with this bird, they look like a rather small and slim sparrow with lots of streaking, short pointed bill, and faint but noticeable yellow bands on the wings and tail. Their vocalizations have been described as sporadic buzzing or wheezy. They are quite gregarious birds during the winter, so when they congregate at our feeders the produce a constant but rather soft chatter.
The breeding range of pine siskins is the northern coniferous forest and adjacent mixed forest across much of Canada. Their winter range, however, covers much of the United States and Mexico. They have even been documented to nest in the state occasionally, with locations including Dickinson, Bismarck, Valley City, Fargo, and Grand Forks.
As their common name implies, pine siskins are fond of the seeds of conifers. The same can be said for thistle seeds. They also tend to prefer conifers for nesting, placing their nests 8 feet or so above the ground well camouflaged amongst the branches. If all goes well, they will have one or two broods of 3-5 young each summer.
Pine siskins are not terribly afraid of humans. I have not fed one out of my hand yet this winter. But occasionally if several are around the feeder when I come out to fill it, if I calmly hold out some sunflower seeds in my hand for a bit, one will come in for a seed. Getting a bird to alight on your hand, even for even a moment, is pretty neat experience. Give it a try sometime!