Beak of the Week – Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)
Family: Fringillidae

The Pine Siskin can normally be found across southern Canada and in higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, spreading more widely across the northern and western United States during winter. 

Pine Siskins prefer to feed on the cones of spruce trees, and, in years when spruce trees do not produce many cones, they will wander outside of their usual range in search of other food sources to supply them through the winter months. These large-scale movements of Pine Siskins and other finches into areas typically outside of their winter range are called irruptions; in some years these irruptions reach as far as the Houston area. This year appears to be one such irruption year, as Pine Siskins have been reported around southeast Texas in the past few weeks. 

 

During these such irruption winters, when many Pine Siskins are wintering outside of their normal range, they can often be found in flocks of American Goldfinch and visiting sunflower or thistle seed feeders. Pine Siskins are small birds that are generally streaked brown both above and below, with a touch of yellow on the wings and at the base of the tail. These yellow patches may be difficult to see when Pine Siskins are perched, but they are much more noticeable when the birds take flight. The call of Pine Siskins is also unique – many birders liken it to the sound of a zipper being zipped, and hearing this call is an easy way to find flocks of birds high in treetops or flying over. 

By Aidan Healey, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
📸 Photos by Greg Lavaty

Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds!

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