My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Pine Siskin, Spinus pinus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Pine Siskin, Spinus pinus

The Pine Siskin is a North American bird in the finch family.

These birds are fairly small, being around the same size as the widespread American goldfinch. In both sexes, total length can range from 11–14 cm (4.3–5.5 in), with a wingspan of 18–22 cm (7.1–8.7 in) and weight of 12–18 g (0.42–0.63 oz).

Adults are brown on the upper parts and pale on the underparts, with heavy streaking throughout. They have short forked tails. Their bills are conical like most finches but are more elongated and slender than those of other co-occurring finches. Variably, pine siskins have yellow patches on their wings and tails, which may also consist of white streaks on the wings. Although they can be confused by the more inexperienced for other finches or even American sparrows, pine siskins are distinguished by their heavy streaking, relatively slender bills, notched tail, yellow or whitish patches on the wings and smallish size.

Their breeding range spreads across almost the entirety of Canada, Alaska and, to a more variable degree, across the western mountains and northern parts of the United States. As their name indicates, the species occurs mostly as a breeder in open conifer forests. Northern pine forests supports the majority of the species breeding population. However, stands of ornamental conifers or deciduous trees may support nesting birds in partially developed parks, cemeteries, and suburban woodlands. While they favor feeding in open forest canopies where cone seeds are abundant, they’ll forage in habitats as diverse as deciduous forests and thickets, meadows, grasslands, weedy fields, roadsides, chaparral, and backyard gardens and lawns. They flock to backyard feeders offering small seeds. Mineral deposits can lure them to otherwise unattractive habitats like winter road beds that are salted to melt snow and ice. The nest is well-hidden on a horizontal branch of a tree, often a conifer.

Migration by this bird is highly variable, probably related to food supply. Large numbers may move south in some years; hardly any in others. This species is one of a few species that are considered “irruptive winter finches” because of the high variability of their movements based on the success of crops from year to year.

These birds forage in trees, shrubs and weeds. They mainly eat seeds, plant parts and some insects. In winter, they often feed in mixed flocks including American Goldfinches and redpolls. Small seeds, especially thistle, red alder, birch, and spruce seeds, make up the majority of the pine siskin’s diet. In a part of their esophagus called the crop, the species can store up to 10% of their body weight in seeds overnight, providing extra food on cold days. They will alternately eat the young buds of willows, elms and maples, and the soft stems and leaves of weeds and even young garden vegetables. They’ll glean the seeds of grass, dandelions, chickweed, sunflowers and ragweed. Bird feeders often attract pine siskins, where they may eat fragments of heavy-shelled seeds, such as black oil sunflowers, left behind by heavier-billed bird species. In summer, they will eat many insects, especially aphids, as well as a few spiders and grubs, which they then feed to the young as a protein-rich food that contributes to their growth. By the time of winter, even first year siskins predominately eat seeds.

Pine Siskins can survive in very cold temperatures. The metabolic rates of this species are typically 40% higher than a “normal” songbird of their size. When temperatures plunge as low as –70°C (–94°F), they can accelerate that rate up to five times normal for several hours. They also put on half again as much winter fat as their Common Redpoll and American Goldfinch relatives. They also can protect their young from cold as well. Nests are often heavily insulated with thick plant materials and females may literally never cease incubating their eggs and hatchlings, while being fed by their male mate.

On to my photos:

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskins

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

This is number 118 in my photo life list, only 232 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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4 responses

  1. We had a lot of these guys at our feeder back at the previous house.

    August 7, 2013 at 3:17 am

    • I’ve only seen them twice, they look like fun little birds.

      August 7, 2013 at 8:51 am

  2. Every time I read one of these I wonder how many plants a list I made would have on it.

    August 7, 2013 at 6:25 am

    • Not even I am up to that kind of challenge, the number would be staggering!

      August 7, 2013 at 8:52 am