The winter nomad

by Sue Hirshman
with Kent Nelson

The Pine Siskin is
  an Irruptive Species

This February I am hearing from friends that there is an influx of small birds. One friend tells me her feeders are a flurry of activity of Pine Siskins who are occupying all feeder perches while other birds are waiting their turn. She has counted 125 to 150 of the Siskins.
At my feeders I have noted the Pine Siskin has a fearless behavior and is more reluctant to leave a feeder while feeding than other birds. His voice is a fast-jumbled twittering sound and ends in a long ‘Z’. I have compared it to a small chainsaw sound. When he flies off it is in an undulating flight like a Goldfinch or a Downy Woodpecker.
The Siskin is easily recognized as being only five inches in length. He has a sharply pointed bill for seeds, the tail is notched and the most distinguishing feature is the yellow edgings on the primaries, secondaries and tail feathers. I like the phrase from Kenn Kaufman, the “Pine Siskin is like a Goldfinch wearing camouflage.”
The big factor for this winter’s irruption is tied to a climate pattern with seesaw conditions that affect seed production from trees of spruce, fir and pines and various weeds. When their food source becomes scarce in northern forests and even our Colorado mountains they come to lower elevations and look for...

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