The winter of 2020 and the winter and spring of 2021 have seen unprecedented numbers of Pine Siskins. The reason for this is a shortage of conifer seeds throughout the boreal forests of Canada causing the Siskins to move south in search of food. High numbers of this species have been recorded in southern Canada as well as the United States.
Pine Siskins are small songbirds sporting very streaky brown breasts with yellow edgings on their forked tails and pointed wings. Siskins have pointed bills that are very sharp, often compared to a thorn on a rose bush. It’s common to see them feeding alongside American Goldfinches.
Pine Siskins have normally returned north to their breeding grounds by now, but sightings are still being reported by birdwatchers across the country. In an extremely irruptive year as this has been, Pine Siskins may choose to breed in our neighborhoods. The female will build the nest in a conifer tree 10 to 40 feet above the ground. The nest is shaped like a large shallow cup made of bark strips, twigs and grass. She will line the nest with animal hair, moss and feathers. Two to five eggs may be laid, pale greenish-blue in colour with black and brown dots. The female incubates the eggs and hatchlings while her mate looks after her feeding needs. As the nestlings mature the male will assist with feeding. The young will fledge the nest 14-15 days after hatching.
Pine Siskins travel in large groups and feed together in close quarters. This can make them susceptible to salmonella disease. For this reason it is very, very important to keep their feeding area extremely clean to prevent the spread of this illness. Feeders should be cleaned weekly with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Allow them to air dry before refilling. By doing our part in keeping the dining room clean, we may be able to enjoy observing Pine Siskins in the coming weeks or months.
By Jane Paradis