Pine Siskin Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Pine Siskin
Scientific Name:Spinus Pinus
Length:11 to 14 cm (4.3 to 5.5 inches)
Life Span:About 10 years
Clutch Size:3 to 5 eggs
Habitat:Mixed forests, meadows, woody pastures, grasslands
Country of Origin:United States, Canada, Mexico

Physical Description

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At first glance, these birds look like a plain and bland bird. However, when you look closer, they have several unique and distinguishing marks. Pine siskins are relatively small birds, almost similar in size with the more popular American Goldfinch. Both male and female siskins have a total length that ranges from 11 to 14 cm. They have a wingspan that reaches 18 to 22 cm, and an overall weight range of 12 to 18 g.

Adult siskins are usually brown on their upperparts and typically pale on their underparts. They have heavy streaks throughout their bodies. They also feature short and forked tails. These birds have conical bills just like most finches, though they are slenderer and more elongated than those of other subspecies.

In some variations of pine siskins, yellow patches are found on the wings and tails, with some white streaks on the wings as well. Even though these birds may be confused with other finches, even the American sparrows, they are distinct because of their heavy streaking, notched tail, relatively slender bills, whitish or yellow patches on the wings.

Their bill is a key feature that easily distinguishes pine siskins apart from other birds, but a careful check of their plumage will reveal more recognizable characteristics. Green morphs among pine siskins are rare, and have the same markings, though with a deeper greenish color. On all siskins, the feet and legs are dark, with juveniles looking similar to adult birds, though their plumage may look fluffier or more disorganized.

For such small birds as pine siskins, they are quite vocal. Their typical calls could include fast buzzing or high pitched rapid chitters. They also seem to be verbally argumentative, and this they use in order to protect their feeding territories from other siskins, sparrows, or finches.

Another unique physical feature of pine siskin is their ‘crop,’ an especially designed pouch in their throat, which is very useful in storing food. This stored food is found to be a useful energy source, especially during the cold nights.

Even though pine siskins are patterned like a sparrow, their actions, shape, and call notes all show that they are a goldfinch in disguise. After they nest in the conifer woods, they usually move out into a semi-open country, where they usually roam in twittering flocks.

Background Information

Pine siskins are songbirds that belong to the finch family. Under the pine siskin family, two subspecies of these birds that are found in the United States, Mexico, and Canada are classified. These birds are also described as a conspicuous and widespread breeding bird species. They are also less predictable and irregular winter visitors in many parts of the United States. They are seen to form huge flocks, especially during the non-breeding season, and are observed to be attracted to seed feeders.

Pine siskins are common birds that are often confused for other kinds of sparrows and finches because their field marks are not as striking compared with other birds. When you recognize these birds, however, you will no doubt appreciate their feisty attitude despite their size. They are both entertaining and energetic.

There are similar species to pine siskin. However, this bird is the only one that is completely brown and streaked. All of the other finches under the Carpodacus family feature thicker bills and are considerably larger. They also lack the yellow flash that serves as the identifying characteristic of siskins.


The Eurasian siskin (S. spinus) is the recognized ancestor of pine siskin, black-capped siskin (S. atriceps), and the Antillean siskin (S. dominicensis). A specific subspecies, the S. pinus perplexus, maybe closer to the S. atriceps, with both groups thriving well in the Guatemalan-Mexican altiplano.

The pine siskin subspecies also seem to belong to the evolutive radiation of the North American Spinus/Carduelis group, whose ancestral species is the Eurasian siskin. They may have been displaced from America.

Habitat and Range

The range of pine siskins is spread throughout different parts in Canada, Alaska, as well as the northern and western parts of the United States. These birds typically breed in coniferous forests, even though they may also be found in mixed locations of the Puget Trough forests. During periods of migration and winter, they may be seen in a number of semi-open areas, such as weed fields and forest edges.

These birds are common and gregarious. When they breed, they go to the coniferous forests of the north and west, while their winter range can be described as erratic, changing from year to year. The reason for this may be due to a fluctuation in their supply of food, which can be found anywhere, virtually. They are also observed to associate with goldfinches often.

Aside from these obvious locations where these birds are found, they can also inhibit areas that are close to human habitations. This includes suburban woodlands, parks, and even cemeteries. In these locations, they may breed in deciduous trees or ornamental conifers. Even though they primarily favor feeding on open forest canopies where there is an abundance of cone seeds, they will usually forage in habitats that are as diverse as thickets and deciduous forests, grasslands, meadows, roadsides, weedy fields, chaparral, lawns and backyard gardens.

These birds also love flocking to backyard feeders, especially those that offer small seeds. The presence of mineral deposits may have the tendency to lure them to possibly unattractive habitats, such as salted winter roadbeds.

Interesting Facts

Here are some interesting facts about pine siskins:

  1. These birds come with a size of 4.3 to 5.5 inches in length, with a weight of 0.42 to 0.63 ounces.
  2. Pine siskins feature a slender body with pointed, long wings and notched short tail. They also have an elongated, sharp, and conical beak.
  3. These birds have an especially designed throat pouch, often referred to as crop, used in storing food. This pouch can also store up to 10% of the weight of the bird. The seeds that are stored are used as a useful source of energy, especially during the cold nights.
  4. Pine siskins are omnivores, which means that they eat both meat and plants. Their diet is based mainly on seeds and buds while eating grubs and insects occasionally.
  5. They are often observed to eat seeds from the branches of coniferous trees while hanging upside down.
  6. While pine siskins are classified as migratory birds, they travel quite unpredictably, depending on the availability of food sources.
  7. These birds have the capability to increase their metabolic rate for up to 40% while keeping the stability of their body temperature during the colder periods of the year.
  8. During courtship, the male sings, displaying air acrobatics, feeding the female. A pair of siskins stay monogamous, at least during the nesting season.
  9. Pine siskins thrive for over 9 years in the wild.
  10. Pine siskins are gregarious birds that usually travel in large flocks.

Voice Calls and Flight Patterns

Since pine siskins are related and are similar to several other finches, they also have undulating flight patterns, along with the capability to start aerial contact calls. The sound that these calls produce is similar to a rapid jumble of husky notes.

The flight of these birds can also be characterized by a fast series of wing beats, which are then followed by some closed-winged glides. Regarding the study on the vocalization of pine siskins, it has been observed that the courtship and contact calls were the most unique and distinctive among siskins.

There have also been found differences between female, male, and juvenile siskin calls. Juvenile females, for example, create a rhythmic food begging call, while juvenile males have a warbling sub-song. Adult males, on the other hand, give a full song, which is used during reproductive and territorial activities.

Feeding and Diet

Pine siskins are observed to forage in trees, weeds, and shrubs. Their primary food source is seeds, some insects, and plant parts. In winter, they usually feed with other birds, including redpolls and American goldfinches. The majority of their diet includes small seeds, especially birch, red alder, thistle, and spruce seeds.

In a specific part of their esophagus lies the “crop,” which allows them to store up to 10% of their overall body weight in seeds overnight. This will allow them to use the extra energy from these foods, especially on cold days. They will also eat young buds of maples, elms, and willows, as well as the leaves and soft stems of weeds, as well as young garden vegetables.

They are also observed to glean the seeds of dandelions, grass, sunflowers, chickweed, and ragweed. These birds are also attracted to bird feeders, where they usually eat fragments of heavy-shelled seeds, including black oil sunflowers, which are left behind by bird species with heavier bills.

In summer, they love eating insects, particularly aphids, as well as grubs and spiders, which they also feed to their young, serving as protein-rich food that further contributes to their growth. In winter, even young siskins eat seeds. These birds are known to survive even in very cold temperatures.

Their metabolic rates are about 40% higher than the “normal” songbird of their size. When the temperature starts to plunge to lower than 70 degrees Celsius, they have the capacity to accelerate the rate up to 5x than the normal for several hours. Then, they put on half as much winter fat than other related subspecies. They also have the capacity to protect their young well from the cold. Nests are usually insulated using thick plant materials, while females do not stop incubating their eggs and hatchlings, as they are also being fed by their mates.

Studies on the feeding activities of pine siskins show that even though these birds prefer seeds that come from coniferous or deciduous forests, they are somewhat adjustable and resourceful when it comes to looking for seeds. These birds are also described as vicious fighters, with high energy and fearless attitude. Flocks of siskins usually make a quick departure from a certain region when they are not satisfied with the supply of food in a certain area.


Pine siskins have a lifespan of about 10 years. In a study, it was found that the relationship with body condition, as well as stress-induced elevation of plasma corticosterone, were all consistent with a possible role of these hormones among modulating feeding activities of these birds. This means that these birds secrete a hormone whenever they experience high levels of stress, thus further increasing their need to look for food.

Tips for Feeding Pine Siskins

Here are some tips for feeding pine siskins:

1) Prepare multiple feeders

Pine siskins are combative and feisty amongst themselves. For this reason, it is often recommended to prepare multiple feeder spaces for all of them to feed.

2) Spread the feeders

These birds are prone to salmonellosis. As such, it is best to spread the feeders out so that any illness or disease will less likely spread.

3) Prepare fresh nyger seeds

It is often a mistake purchasing more nyger seeds than what you actually need for a couple of months. Make sure to purchase your seeds from a reliable shop to make sure that they are fresh. You will never know how long those cheap and big bags of seeds have been sitting on a shelf or a warehouse. Such length of time may affect the overall freshness of the seeds.

4) Prepare other food options

These birds eat a lot more than just nyger seeds. In fact, they are found to eat bark butter, eating from stackables, and seed cylinders. They will also eat black oil sunflower, as well as sunflower chips.

5) Keep the feeding areas clean

Make sure that all feeders are clean. During the presence of these birds, make sure to do so regularly. The reason behind this is because pine siskins are prone to salmonellosis, which means that clean feeders and clean feeding areas greatly reduce the spread of diseases.


Female siskins are experts in terms of nest placement. For one, the females attach the nest towards the edge of a horizontal branch loosely, preferring the middle heights of a conifer. This location is typically hidden well with foliage, usually using another branch directly above the nest. This species usually nests in loose colonies, which means that nearby nests are just a few trees away.

Throughout a period of 5 or 6 days, the female bird starts building a shallow saucer using grasses, twigs, weed stems, leaves, bark strips, rootlets, and lichens. Males, on the other hand, stay close, at times contributing to the gathering of nest material as well.

The female then starts to line the inner cup, usually 1 to 2.5 inch in size, with feathers, fur, moss, grass, or thistledown. She may also complete the nest a number of days before laying eggs. The nests are attached loosely to branches, and may even be vulnerable to gusty winds.


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Pine siskins are usually observed to flit about in the uppermost canopy of most seed-bearing trees. They may also cling upside down to the tips of the branch in order to empty some hanging cones out of their seeds. Tender shoots and abundant seeds tend to attract them to the ground to feed.

Flocks are also observed to constantly make wheezy contact calls while feeding or amidst their undulating flight. These birds are unusually unterritorial and convivial, which means that they are open to nesting in loose colonies while foraging in flocks away from their nesting places.

The males sing from higher perches, as well as during their circular courtship flights. Pairs of birds may also visit the nests of other pairs before and after brooding. During this period, the female birds stay on the nest while the male feeds her. Individual birds and winter flocks may be aggressive, especially around food sources, which is why they may end up challenging their competitors by spreading their wings and tail, lowering their heads, and making some faint but threating calls.

The next scene to this behavior involves aggressive lunges, which may result in fights that may carry siskins that are competing for several meters up in the air. There are also some opportunistic individuals that may forage nearby heavier-beaked birds, working towards gleaning the fragments of bigger seeds that they cannot crack by themselves. They are also observed to hop on the seed heads of dandelions, making them easier to pick by trapping them on the ground. When these birds migrate, they do so in flocks of several thousand.

This species is also observed to be quick and agile fliers that travel in both small and large flocks. They can also be found frequently among mixed flocks. When they are agitated, a head forward threat display is an aggressive reaction, also possibly opening their bill or raising feathers on the head. If another bird comes too close to their feeding perch, the resident bird may snap at or even grab the assumed intruder.

Migration Pattern

Populations of pine siskins that breed in the Southern part of Canada migrate to the Eastern and Central parts of the United States. However, if food is abundant in their location, these birds may choose not to migrate at all.

Despite not having a complete migration, these birds are nomadic in general, especially within their range. Even though they may be found in huge numbers in a particular year, they may be almost absent the next year. They are also prone to environmental changes and conditions, as well as periodic irruptions as populations.

Similar to their distribution, the migration patterns among pine siskins also vary. In the winter, the distribution and status of these birds range irregularly from year to year, typically due to inconsistency of food supply, and thus, these birds can be practically found anywhere.

Studies have discovered that the pattern of movements among pine siskins in Pennsylvania has changed little throughout the last few years. For instance, it has been observed that in the winter, these birds may be found in several types of semi-open locations, including forest edges as well as weed-field feeds.

With the variety of areas that these birds are found in the winter, they can also be considered as rather wandering and irruptive within their distributions, even though they are typically considered as residents all throughout the other seasons.

With the desire of researchers to discover the lineage and ancestry of siskins, they have discovered that these birds would have followed their ancestors’ migration patterns about 12,000 years ago. By detecting their night flight calls, it has also been discovered that they were likely going through nocturnal migration. This may serve as a facultative strategy for migration, occurring only during the years wherein huge irruptive movements take place.

How to Care For Pine Siskins

If you want to make sure that your pine siskins remain healthy under your care, a number of things can be done. For one, when feeding them with seeds, it is best to ensure that they are fresh. Nyger seeds, also known as thistle seeds, are attractive to siskins due to their high oil content.

Note, however, that nyger seeds have the tendency to dry out in just a couple of months, making them less desirable to the birds. It may look fine to humans, but when the seeds are all dried out, the birds will no longer be attracted to the seeds.

If your seeds are over a few months old, it is recommended to start fresh with newly bought seeds from a reliable store. It really makes a difference. When you purchase nyger seeds, get it in amounts that will be consumed within just a couple of months.

Finches like goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls are all sitters. Unlike other feeders, such as chickadees that do not take a seed from feeders, leave the perches, or open the seed and keep coming back for more, pine siskins just sit there, even for a time. In order to welcome them to your feeder, it may be best to add another feeder. The feeder may be hung in the same area, though it provides some space in between the feeders in order to ensure healthy bird feeding.

During winter, pine siskins visit in huge groups. This is a perfect time to hang a mesh feeder. They will usually cling on the feeder, which picking nyger seeds right through the mesh, and you will certainly enjoy seeing them diagonally, sideways, as well as in an upside-down.

It is also best to recognize a pine siskin from a goldfinch. For one, pine siskins feed amidst goldfinches. They are also of the same size. At first glance, it is easy to mistake them as they have the same wing marks like goldfinches. As such, when you look at your feeders and see a bunch of goldfinches, it may be best to look again.

Pine siskins have streaks from head to tail, back, and front. They may also have a bit of yellow in their wings, as well as at the base of their tail. They have a bill that is a bit pointed than a goldfinch. They are also more aggressive than goldfinches, even being feisty at feeders.

When it comes to preparing feeders, make sure that they are clean all the time. A standard drill can be applied. Combine together 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Rinse well and air dry. To ensure regularity and consistency in cleaning your feeders, it is best to mark your calendar in order to clean your feeders at least once or twice a month all throughout the winter period. You may want to choose a quick clean finch feeder that will make cleaning easier and more convenient. Antimicrobial feeders also inhibit the growth of mold, bacteria, as well as other microbes.

Lastly, it is important to monitor the health of the birds under your care. Unhealthy siskins change from being approachable and lethargic to being labored breathing, as well as swelling around their eyes. These birds may be suspected with salmonella, with which they are highly susceptible to. Salmonella, in particular, exists at very low levels in the wild, though outbreaks can still occur, particularly during winter finch irruptions.

You can break the cycle of spreading salmonella among these birds by observing birds that are afflicted. If you see them at your feeders, you need to take down your feeders for a period of time. This will help disperse the birds for a time. Continuing to feed them using the same feeder may only cause the illness to spread to other birds.

This is very important to follow if you are already suspecting salmonella present in your bird feeders. As a way to protect yourself from being infested as well, make sure to wash your hands always after handling a birdfeeder.

Reproductive Habits

Formation of pairs and courtship among pine siskins might start in the winter flocks. This usually happens from February to August. This period starts when the male siskin sings and flies around in circles with his tail and wings widely spread above the female bird. The females, on the other hand, builds the nest, typically consisting of a huge yet shallow cup of grass, twigs, bark, and rootlets, which are lined with animal hair, moss, and feathers.

Female siskins lay a range of eggs, usually about 2 to 5 in the count. The eggs will be incubated for about 13 days. The young begin to leave the nest after the thirteenth to seventeenth days, even though the parent birds still continue to feed them for around three more weeks.

It has also been observed that factors aside from food also played a huge role in both the causing and improving reproduction among pine siskins. It has also been found that access to seeds has a positive effect on the relationship among pairs of pine siskins, aside from showing that food is a very powerful stimulus for reproduction. A different study also found that the reproductive timing among female siskins appears to be sensitive to the presence of a possible mate, as well as the relationship that a female siskin has with her mate.


All forms of life, including pine siskins, suffer from being affected by diseases. It has been discovered that salmonellosis receives increased recognition as a primary cause of mortality among birds in the wild, especially those that usually visit bird feeding stations.

Some studies identified sick siskins as appearing depressed and weak, with occasional diarrhea and ruffled feathers. Neurological signs which were present before the death of specimens under study include weak flight, ataxia, as well as tumbling over. With the work of researchers, a conclusion was created, that backyard bird-feeders can also serve as a huge cause for a serious outbreak of diseases among wild birds.

Conservation and Threats

According to the Breeding Bird Survey, despite being considered as the most common finch in Washington, pine siskins have suffered a significant decline in their annual population since 1966. Because of the irruptive nature of pine siskins, their population may widely vary from year to year, with trends that may be challenging to interpret. Among the threats of their population and productivity include parasitism caused by brown-headed cowbirds, while forest fragmentation has also increased their contact with those cowbirds. A solution to helping in keeping this species is common is by maintaining large tracts of coniferous forest.

Overall, these birds are not considered either endangered or threatened. However, population studies have described steep declines in their population in recent decades. Since these birds travel in dense flocks, they are especially vulnerable to diseases that are spread at bird feeders, while backyard feeders need to take care of cleaning feeders regularly in order to minimize such risk. Pesticide poisoning and feral cats are also considered as threats to pine siskins.

Backyard Tips

Pine siskins will visit backyards readily, given that they can find an adequate supply of food. Backyard bird feeders that are filled with nyger seeds in sock, tube, or platform feeders, as well as those that offer black oil sunflower seed, along with a source of fresh water, will surely be visited by pine siskins frequently.

These birds may also love nibbling at sued feeders. Yards with natural weed seeds, coniferous trees, and seed-bearing flowers will also find pine siskins very attractive.

Where to Get Pine Siskins

Since pine siskins visit feeding stations readily, birders who want to see these birds can also go to nature preserves and centers that provide a stock of finch-friendly feeders. Forest edges and weedy fields are also amazing places to find these pine siskins, especially from late summer through winter, when there is an abundance of seeds. You can observe their active behavior, usually combined with buzzy voices. When you can find one pine siskin, you will most likely see an entire flock next.

FAQ Section

What do pine siskins eat?

Pine Siskins mainly eat plant parts, seeds, and some insects. They also feed in mixed flocks during winter, usually together with redpolls and American goldfinches. Among the preferred seeds of pine, siskins include small seeds, such as spruce seeds, birch, red alder, and thistle.

How do you attract pine siskins?

In their wild environment, pine siskins usually feed on tall weeds. They tear the heads of the seeds apart, and drop them to the ground and eat them. They also love the seeds of trees, particularly alder, spruce, birch, sweetgum, pine, and maple. Nyjer or thistle seeds are their favorite seeds from backyard feeders, especially in winter.

Where do pine siskins nest?

Pine siskins mainly nest in loose colonies in semi-open conifer, as well as coniferous and deciduous forests.

Where do pine siskins live?

Pine siskins are primarily a resident breeder from Northern and Southern England, but they are found as numerous in both Wales and Scotland.

What do pine siskins look like?

Pine siskins are brown overall, with streaks. They have subtle yellow edgings on their wings and tails.

How can you tell the difference between a pine siskin and a goldfinch?

Both birds are said to look similar. However, a pine siskin has a sharp and pointy beak, while the breast area has a well-defined vertical streak. They also have a tinge of yellow color in their wings, together with their deeply forked tail.

Are pine siskins migratory birds?

Pine siskins are considered generally as resident birds, though they can still be nomadic and irruptive, most especially during winter. Their movements highly depend on the abundance and distribution of seeds available.

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