Daily Bird: Pine Siskin
October 27, 2020
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It doesn’t happen often but once in a while a half dozen species of birds we rarely see in Connecticut will move south from their summer grounds in the far north in search of food.
They’re called winter finches, even though they’re not all finches and it’s not winter.
Regardless, the end of 2020 seems to be one of those years.
Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins and a handful of Evening Grosbeaks have all been seen in Connecticut recently. The hope is that Common Redpolls, Red Crossbills, and Pine Grosbeaks will follow.
We’re going to feature them on the Daily Bird. Today’s post was written in 2014 by Frank Gallo, former associate director of the Coastal Center, and edited and updated today by Tom Andersen, Connecticut Audubon’s communications director. The video is by Gilles Carter; Patrick Comins took the photos.
Pine Siskins have been leaving their summer haunts in the boreal forests and stopping in Connecticut in large numbers recently.
They’re considered an irruptive species, meaning they only leave the northern forests in years when food supplies are scarce. This year seems to be at least a partial irruption year.
What it looks like: Pine Siskins are small brown finches that are white below with brown streaks. They are similar in size and shape to an American Goldfinch, but have a thinner more pointed bill and a deeply forked tail. Their wing feathers are edged in yellow and, in flight, they show a bold yellow strip across their open wing.
Siskins can turn up anywhere in the state, but when there are favorable winds out of the north-northwest, check coastal sites such as Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, our Coastal Center at Milford Point, and especially areas with abundant seeds. Siskins prefer the seeds of pines and spruce, but eat a wide variety of others including, birch, alder, and many weed seeds. Flocks will readily visit bird feeders, and are especially attracted to thistle.
Gilles Carter, a member of Connecticut Audubon’s Board of Director’s, took the video on this page at the Coastal Center recently. The birds are feeding on Iva frutescens, a small shrub that grows near salt water. Gilles also took a video of the birds drinking and bathing in the Coastal Center’s pool — the “magic fountain,” as it’s come to be called because of the way it attracts songbirds. The photo on this page was taken there as well. So by all means, visit the Coastal Center and look for siskins there. They’ve also been seen recently around the Center at Pomfret.
How to find it: As Pine Siskins often travel in large noisy flocks, it is quite helpful to learn their characteristic raspy “Zree” call note. Visit coastal sites on good migration days and listen for the call. If they’re migrating, be prepared for quick glimpses as flocks often pass through without stopping.
For more satisfying looks, check areas with abundant spruce and pine cones, elder and birch thickets, and weedy fields and community gardens where they may stop to feed.
Keep your feeders stocked, because siskins will often remain for a number of days if they find a good supply.