Pine Siskin

Spinus pinus

Last updated: September 12, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

When foraging, pine siskins hang upside down to pick through the leaves and bark, collecting seeds from coniferous trees.

Pine Siskin Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Fringillidae
Genus
Spinus
Scientific Name
Spinus pinus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Pine Siskin Conservation Status

Pine Siskin Locations

Pine Siskin Locations

Pine Siskin Facts

Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Family units
Fun Fact
When foraging, pine siskins hang upside down to pick through the leaves and bark, collecting seeds from coniferous trees.
Estimated Population Size
40 million individuals
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Buff streaking over their mantles
Gestation Period
2 weeks
Temperament
Aggressive
Wingspan
7.1-8.7 inches
Incubation Period
2 weeks
Age Of Independence
13 to 17 days
Habitat
Coniferous forests
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Seeds
Common Name
Pine Siskin
Location
North America, Alaska, Canada
Nesting Location
Coniferous Trees

Pine Siskin Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Dark Brown
  • Cream
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
5 to 6 years
Weight
0.4 to 0.6 oz
Length
4.3 to 5.5 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
1 year
Aggression
High

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View all of the Pine Siskin images!



The pine siskin is a common bird often mistaken for sparrows or finches because their distinctive features are not as obvious as other birds.

What they lack in physical features, they make for in personality. These little birds are incredibly energetic and entertaining.

Males and females look the same, with dark streaking on their white abdomen and chest. In addition, they have buff streaking over their mantles.

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Pine siskins inhabit most of the United States and Canada, but they are especially predominant along the Rocky Mountains and coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest.

Three Incredible Pine Siskin Facts!

  • Pine siskins communicate through a series of calls, including buzzing and a high-pitched quick chitter. To protect their food source from other siskins, sparrows, and finches, they let out a series of aggressive chitter.
  • Their migratory patterns are irruptive because of their erratic winter movements, which depend on the state of cone crops in North America.
  • These energetic birds are omnivores whose diet consists of seeds, insects, and spiders. However, they mainly get seeds from coniferous trees. They can also fall into the group granivores because they typically prefer seeds.

Where to Find the Pine Siskin

Pine siskins are common birds found in North America and Central America, with large populations in :

Habitat

With pine siskins spread out over most of Canada, the northern and western parts of the United States, and Alaska, bird enthusiasts often see them. They prefer to breed in coniferous forests; however, pine siskins can be found in lowland forests between the Cascade Range and Olympic Peninsula in Washington, this includes Seattle.


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Sightings increase during migration, and pine siskins are often seen in semi-open areas, like open fields and the forest edge.

Nests

Pine siskins breeding patterns change year by year. They either nest in loose colonies or isolated pairs. Then, males start to court the females, and couples begin to form during winter flocks.

Adult males will fly in a circle above the female while singing, with their wings and tails spread. In addition, males will often feed the females during courtship to make their ritual more enticing.

They build their nest in trees (primarily conifers), attaching them to a horizontal branch far from the trunk. Females build large, shallow nests with bark, twigs, grass, animal hair, moss, and feathers.

Pine Siskin Scientific Name

The pine siskin’s scientific name is Spinus pinus, and they belong to the order Passeriformes. In Latin, passer means “sparrow,” and formes translates to “shaped.” This family contains more than half of all bird species.

Passeriformes are defined by their toes, with three facing forward and one back, which helps with perching. Therefore, another name for this order is perching birds.

Pine siskins are members of the Fringillidae family, consisting of small to medium-sized birds considered true finches. They occur on every continent except Antarctica and include about 230 species in 50 genera. Members include:

They have three recognized subspecies:

  • S. p. macropterusNative to Northwest and central Mexico
  • S. p. pinus – Native to Northeast USA, Alaska, and Canada
  • S. p. perplexus Native to southern Mexico to Guatemala

Size and Appearance

Pine siskins are tiny birds that weigh between 0.4 to 0.6 oz and measure 4.3 to 5.5 inches long, with a wingspan between 7.1 to 8.7 inches.

When first looking at these tiny birds, they seem to fade into the background with their dull plumage, but upon further inspection, many distinguishing marks come to light. They have skinny triangular bills ending in a sharp point and a lighter underside.

Their bill is one of their most defining characteristics, but the field marks in their plumage are their most revealing feature.

There are no differentiating features between males and females; they look the same. They have dark streaking on their white abdomens and breasts, with black lines on their mantles.

In addition, they have fine black and brown streaking on their heads. Their wings originate from a small yellow patch and end in bright yellow bars. It’s easy to identify them by the yellow patches at the edge of their tails, which are easily visible.

Some pine siskins are green, but this is a very rare color variation. However, they have identical markings, with a deeper greenish hue.

Their legs and feet are dark, and the chicks look almost identical to the adults except for their fluffier and disorganized plumages.

The pine siskin makes its presence known with its vocal outbursts. They have several calls ranging from high-pitched rapid chittering to quick buzzing sounds.

They are territorial birds that will verbally assault other siskins, sparrows, or finches if they come too close to their food source.

Male and female pine siskins at a bird feeder
Like many bird species, the male (front) pine siskin has more vivid coloring than the female (back left).

Klimek Pavol/Shutterstock.com

Migration Pattern and Timing

Pine siskins have Irruptive migration patterns that change depending on the state of cone crops in Northern America. However, they migrate to central and southern parts of America every other year. These patterns are sporadic and hard to determine.

Behavior, Reproduction, and Molting

These energetic birds are primarily active during the day but occasionally hunt in the moonlight when food is scarce. While large groups flock together during the colder months, they can form smaller flocks throughout the year.

Pine siskins are pretty common in urban environments, especially around bird feeders. However, they are skilled foragers who wisp around the forest canopies and hedgerows, often hanging upside-down while picking through pine needles and bark for a tasty snack.

Their flight pattern is undulating (forms and outline), and they partake in aerial contact calls. Pine siskins are generally resident, but colder temperatures can cause them to become nomadic and irruptive.

Their migration habits depend on the availability of seeds, and when cone crops are meager during winter, they flee to Washington and the western slope of the Cascades.

Diet

These stealthy birds are considered omnivores because they eat insects, spiders, and seeds. However, their meal of choice is coniferous tree seeds, which also make them granivores.

Other food preferences include:

  • Spruce
  • Hemlock
  • Pine
  • Cedar seeds
  • Dandelions seeds
  • Chickweed
  • Ragweed
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Larvae
  • Insects

But, pine siskins also take full advantage of the seed mixes found in bird feeders.

Reproduction

Pine siskins mate for life with monogamous couples forming during winter flocks. However, their nesting pattern frequently changes from loose colonies to individual pairs.

Their mating season starts in January and ends in February, where they hide their nests in branches of conifers.

The females build large, shallow nests with twigs, bark strips, grass, leaves, animal hair, moss, plant down, and feathers.

Females can lay 3 to 4 eggs and spends two weeks incubating them while their partner brings food to the nest. For a few days after the chicks have hatched, the male will continue to hunt for the family, but soon after, males and females share the hunting duties.

The chicks don’t stay around for long and typically leave the nest 13 to 17 days after they have hatched. However, their parents will still feed them for another 3 weeks.

Lifespan

Pine siskins can live long lives, with an average lifespan of 5 to 6 years in the wild. However, no data is available on how long they can live in captivity because these birds are not kept captive.

Interestingly, in 1966, a pine siskin was discovered in Michigan, which scientists revealed was 8 years and 8 months old, and is the oldest pine siskin ever found.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

These feisty little birds have to be vigilant because they have many predators. The urban-dwelling populations need to watch out for dogs and cats, especially when enjoying the seeds in bird feeders.

Predators in the wild include:

Their biggest threat is habitat loss, but other threats include chemical pollution, which infects the ground and is a significant threat to the species. In addition, they often collide with vehicles.

But despite the chemical pollution invading their habitats, the pine siskins’ population is still stable. So while deforestation is their main threat, it might be mitigated by commercial coniferous forests planted yearly. For now, their population is stable and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN’s Red List.

Population

While it’s hard to determine the pine siskin’s exact population size, it’s estimated that there are 40 million individuals worldwide.

Pine siskins play an essential role in their ecosystems and control many destructive populations of insects and weeds.

Communication

Pine siskins communicate through three significant aspects, visual, tactile, and acoustic. First, males will sing and circle the females they desire. The male’s call ranges between “zweees” and “zweets.”

They are taught to sing in their juvenile stage, and songs contain calls they use to communicate. For example, one of the male’s calls is a high-pitched chittering sound, while females have a low-pitched course voice when they call.

The Difference Between Pine Siskins and Goldfinches

Pine siskins and goldfinches often share the same habitat and will flock together. As a result, they share many similar characteristics, but there are identifying features that set them apart.

One of these features is the dark streaks on the pine siskin’s white breast. These streaks are absent in goldfinches. In addition, siskins are bigger and their bodies more streamlined, with a longer and pointier bill—the yellow patches on the pine siskin’s mantles and tails.

However, people could mistake this for the goldfinches, whose yellow color shines more vibrantly in the spring and summer. But they molt in winter, turning their plumage brown.

Do Pine Siskins Make Good Pets?

No, there is no data to confirm that these birds make good pets. However, they are great backyard feeders, and you can entice them to your garden by leaving out some seeds, nuts, and thistle.

Are Pine Siskins Aggressive?

These feisty little birds can become quite aggressive during winter flocks when competing for a mate and foraging because they are very competitive.

Pine Siskins and Saminella

Because Pine Siskins are so irruptive and during the winter, nomadic finches disperse erratically across North America, with migrations heavily dependent on food sources.

Over the past few years, dense flocks have moved across the Pacific Northwest. The reason for the increase in migrants across this region is due to a shortage of food in the boreal forest in Canada.

Bird enthusiasts enjoy setting up feeders in their backyards. Still, bird lovers must avoid large congregations of pine siskins at all costs because it is a breeding ground for disease.

Large flocks of any bird species are incredibly vulnerable to disease epidemics because if one gets sick, it spreads quickly to the others. Unfortunately, pine siskins have recently shown Salmonella symptoms, which urgently need to be addressed, especially in areas like the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to British Columbia, where there have been increased reports of sick and dying siskins.

While salmonella can impact any bird species, pine siskins are especially vulnerable. Sadly, there could be many reasons for this, but it is likely due to their close contact flocking patterns and social nature, making it easy for the disease to spread.

Unknown Facts About the Pine Siskin

Pine siskins have a handy little throat pouch specifically designed to store food. These pouches can hold up to 10 % of the siskin’s weight, so they have a backup at night when they cannot forage for food. In addition, stored seeds are beneficial and are a significant energy source for these little birds.

Pine siskins hang upside down when foraging to pick through the leaves and bark, collecting seeds from coniferous trees.

Pine siskins have erratic migration patterns, and their destination depends on food availability. They will even migrate to colder climates if there is enough food. They can live in colder temperatures because they have the ability to increase their metabolic rate by 40% to sustain their body temperature.

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About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

Pine Siskin FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do pine siskins migrate from Canada?

Pine siskins occur over most of Canada, the northern and western parts of the United States, and Alaska.

Are there pine siskins in the UK?

No, pine siskins occur over most of Canada, the northern and western parts of the United States, and Alaska.

Where do pine siskins go in winter?

Pine siskins have irruptive migration patterns that change depending on the state of cone crops in Northern America. However, they migrate to central and southern parts of America every other year. These patterns are sporadic and hard to determine.

How big are pine siskins?

Pine siskins are tiny little birds that weigh between 0.4 to 0.6 oz and measure 4.3 to 5.5 inches long, with a wingspan between 7.1 to 8.7 inches.

What is the difference between pine siskins and goldfinches?

Pine siskins are bigger and their bodies more streamlined, with a longer, and pointer bill. The yellow patches on the pine siskin’s mantles and tails.

Sources
  1. IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22720359/94666039
  2. eBird, Available here: https://ebird.org/species/pinsis?siteLanguage=en_ZA
  3. All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pine_Siskin/id
  4. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/pine-siskin
  5. Mayne Conservancy, Available here: https://mayneconservancy.ca/15224-2/
  6. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_siskin#Separation_from_the_Eurasian_siskin
  7. Animal Bio, Available here: https://animalia.bio/pine-siskin#:~:text=Pine%20siskins%20have%20patches%20of,tail%20and%20relatively%20slender%20bills.

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