Ron Pittaway writes a report called the Winter Finch Forecast based on how the seed and fruit yields are in trees across the northern forests. It makes for interesting reading particularly as our summer birds leave for the south and the trees become bare: the hope of some other unusual winter visitors is always welcome. For the winter of 2014/15, the Forecast predicted that some Pine Siskins will move south searching for food if they don’t find enough spruce cones. And they have! Reports have popped up from across southern Ontario and I’m happy to add another one: Today I saw Pine Siskins at J.C. Saddington park on the north shore of Lake Ontario in Mississauga.
Were My Siskins in Spruces?
Given that up north these birds enjoy the seeds from spruce cones, I wasn’t quite sure where to expect to see them down here. There are spruces at Saddington. There are also trees of almost every type from alder and birch on through the alphabet.
Reports of Pine Siskins from other birders in Toronto and Hamilton mentioned seeing them feeding on goldenrod stalks and nyger seeds in feeders. So I decided to just keep an open eye and look everywhere.
Siskins Are Not Silent
The other clue given to me by more experienced bird watchers was to listen for Pine Siskins. They call often and they sound a bit like American Goldfinches.
The birds I heard were more making a series of buzzy twitters. The one sound that reminded me of a Goldfinch’s querying note turned out to be a real Goldfinch moving around with the flock of Pine Siskins!
Allaboutbirds.org, the Cornell University website, describes their sounds as “insistent wheezy twitters.” That sounds reasonable to me! Their recording titled “flock singing and calling” was most like what I heard today, although my flock was smaller and quieter. Another recording that sounded like today’s birds is on Xeno-Canto and was contributed by Richard E Webster.
Where Did I Find the Flock?
Today, the flock was feeding on some very tall (5 metres, 15 feet or more) Alders and Cedars near a small stream that feeds into the duck pond. They were actively feeding and moving. It would not surprise me to see them other locations during the day.
This fuzzy photo shows not one but two Siskins at the tip of an Alder branch.
I also saw what I’m pretty sure was a flock of Siskins last week in the park. They were mid-way along the path leading along the Lake to the west, perched momentarily in a bare poplar. They took wing before I could check their details. The area was surrounded by meadows of goldenrod.
I think looking everywhere and listening may be the fastest way to find a flock of Pine Siskins.
What Do Pine Siskins Look Like?
As the pictures have shown, they are actually a fairly plain bird. They are streaked thoroughly underneath which quickly shows they are not Goldfinches. Their bill is also a totally different shape. That said they do have some nice flashes of yellow in the wings of the adults. And their cheerful chatty personality made them very appealing to watch.
This is a Siskin on the left and a Goldfinch on the right.
I hope you see some Siskins this season, too!
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Have you had any Pine Siskins visiting your feeder? Were they solo or mixed with Goldfinches? Please share your sighting with a comment.