Birds – Pine Siskin

(Spinus pinus) Finch family


Length—4.75 to 5 inches. Over an inch smaller than the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Olive-brown and gray above, much streaked and striped with very dark brown everywhere. Darkest on head and back. Lower back, base of tail, and wing feathers pale sulphur-yellow. Under parts very light buff brown, heavily streaked.

Range—North America generally. Most common in north latitudes. Winters south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Migrations—Erratic winter visitor from October to April. Uncommon in summer.

A small grayish-brown brindle bird, relieved with touches of yellow on its back, wings, and tail, may be seen some winter morning roving on the lawn from one evergreen tree to another, clinging to the pine cones and peering attentively between the scales before extracting the kernels. It utters a call-note so like the English sparrow’s that you are surprised when you look up into the tree to find it comes from a stranger. The pine siskin is an erratic visitor, and there is always the charm of the unexpected about its coming near our houses that heightens our enjoyment of its brief stay.

As it flies downward from the top of the spruce tree to feed upon the brown seeds still clinging to the pigweed and golden-rod stalks sticking out above the snow by the roadside, it dips and floats through the air like its charming little cousin, the gold-finch. They have several characteristics in common besides their flight and their fondness for thistles. Far at the north, where the pine siskin nests in the top of the evergreens, his sweet-warbled love-song is said to be like that of our ” wild canary’s,” only with a suggestion of fretfulness in the tone.

Occasionally some one living in an Adirondack or other mountain camp reports finding the nest and hearing the siskin sing even in midsummer; but it is, nevertheless, considered a northern species, however its erratic habits may sometimes break through the ornithologist’s traditions.