Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Say goodbye to the pine siskins in Pennsylvania

For the past three months, many rural Pennsylvanians have been enjoying a small visitor from the north at their birdfeeders – the pine siskin.  Pine siskins are related to our more common American goldfinch – same size and shape and even the same behavior. Although some goldfinches live in Pennsylvania year-round, siskins normally live in the pine/spruce forests of Canada.

 Unlike the goldfinch, siskins have brown streaked breasts, and they sport bright yellow wing and tail bars.

When many pine siskins migrate southward, ornithologists call it an irruption, and they believe such a large movement of hundreds of thousands of siskins is caused by a food shortage in Canada.

While here at Pennsylvania feeders, pine siskins prefer sunflower hearts/chips and thistle (nyjer) seeds. However, their natural food is the seeds from conifers – pine, spruce, fir and hemlock.

Siskins rarely see humans in their normal habitat and they seem to be quite tame around humans here – even curious.  With just a little effort and patience, you can have them literally eating out of your hand.

This winter, the first pine siskin appeared at my Centre County, Pennsylvania,  birdfeeder in late December.  I watched that number slowly grow to 25 by early February, over 50 by mid-month, and to nearly 100 by March 1.  By mid-March, their northward movement had begun, and suddenly, there were only about a dozen at my feeders.

If the same pattern from past irruptions repeats itself, a few siskins will linger until early April. Then they will be gone until winter conditions in Canada trigger the next irruption.

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