Pine Siskins, seen this winter at feeders everywhere

Pine Siskins are familiar feeder birds in many parts of the U.S. and Canada during the winter though seen most often at more northern and western locations. However, as they are a species that is ‘irruptive’–that is, they follow the seed crops so may be seen at your feeder one year then not seen the next as they have moved to another area where there are more seeds (not just seeds in feeders but seeds in large fields where they feed also). This winter they were more widespread and in some locations being reported in exceptionally large numbers.

While other areas reported seeing Pine Siskins for the first time in years, or ever, some of us who have them every winter as I do in Colorado had fewer than usual at our feeders. In fact I thought I wouldn’t get any Pine Siskins this winter as the few that came to my feeders were so late getting there.

Though you can usually see the small yellow patches and wing edgings on Pine Siskins (you may have to use binoculars to see it on some birds) they can be separated from goldfinch species as the latter have more yellow and the Pine Siskins have very streaky plumage. One of the field marks that help in identifying Pine Siskins is it’s pointed bill that is much more slender than the thicker cone-shaped bills found on House Finches and Goldfinches that also commonly seen at feeders in the winter.

The photo just above shows the slender bill and highly forked tail found on Pine Siskins. The streaking on it’s plumage is also on it’s underparts, even on it’s ‘undertail coverts’ (feathers that overlap the base of the underside of the tail).

Though Pine Siskins are best known for coming to feeders to eat nyger (called thistle) seed, water is a big draw in many areas across the U.S. still in the grip of drought. I found the birds in these photos coming to a large puddle of water where they drank and bathed.

Not surprising, Pine Siskins are one of Birds and Blooms Magazines ‘Most Wanted Birds’.

Have you had Pine Siskins at your feeders this winter?

Do you often see Pine Siskins or are they unusual in your area?

  1. Martha Buckey says

    Could you help me with identification? My daughter phoned from the north shore of Hawaii and wants to know what is the
    bird about the size of a cardinal with an all red head and the body is cream colored. She said they sit up on the telephone
    wires and chirp. She is only there for this week and is going to call me back later in the week. Thanks !

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  3. Carol says

    I am trying to identify the birds at my feeders. So far I have counted at least ten different ones today. And I think I am seeing large flocks of pine siskins. It is so hard to weed out all the characteristics that are like other species. But I’m trying between the internet, photos and birding books. Wish me luck.

    • says

      Hello Carol,
      You just keep trying to sort out those birds at your feeders. Like other skills, bird identification gets better with practice. For Pine Siskins, look for birds with a lot of streaks and hopefully you may see some yellow.

  4. Mary Weeks says

    How do you tell the difference between a Pine Siskin and a Goldfinch in the wintertime? We have thistle bags in the front and back and now that I see these pictures of Pine Siskins, I’m wondering if what we thought were Goldfinches are actually Pine Siskins.

  5. shellie says

    wondering if anyone that has the Pine Siskins are finding dead ones at their feeders. We have several that die each week here in Wisconsin


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