By Sara Eisenhauer
VINS Wildlife Keeper
It’s a brisk 24 degrees outside this morning as I step out to top off my bird feeders. The usual customers are waiting: black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, and American goldfinches. As I fill a tube-feeder, I hear a high-pitched zip -- almost like a coat zipper that is being pulled up. I shout out loud, “I know that sound!” To my delight, a small flock of pine siskins are also waiting for a seed refill!
The pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) is a small finch-like songbird that is commonly found in the northern provinces of Canada during the breeding season. Siskins are known as “irruptive species,” which means they will occasionally migrate south into the United States if food availability is low up north during winter months. The best way to see a pine siskin would be to place multiple feeders in your yard filled with sunflower seed or thistle. These winter visitors will usually join a flock of goldfinches in their search for food, which can make it difficult to distinguish them. What you should look for is a goldfinch wearing a pin-stripe suit. Siskins have a distinct striped belly and back, as well as hints of bright yellow on their wings and tail. They also have a very thin, pointed bill which makes it easy to pull seeds from wild thistle plants or your feeder.
Even though the winter months are cold and sometimes longer than we’d like, there are always opportunities to see rare winter visitors. So fill up your feeders, grab your binoculars, and enjoy what winter has to offer! (Photo above by VINS volunteer Bob Heitzman.)