Illustration of a pine siskin

Illustration by Diane Pierce


Map: Pine Siskin range


A widespread and conspicuous breeding species of coniferous forest across the boreal zone of Canada and northern United States, as well as in mountainous areas of the west, the pine siskin is an irregular and less predictable winter visitor virtually anywhere in the United States. It forms large flocks during the nonbreeding season and is commonly attracted to seed feeders. Polytypic (3 ssp. in North America weakly differentiated by size, quality of streaking on underparts, and extent of yellow in wing). Polytypic (nominate in North America). Length 5" (13 cm).

Identification It is entirely brown and streaked and has prominent yellow in the wing, a short deeply notched tail, long wings, and a longish, pointed bill. Male: brown and streaked above, below whitish with coarse dark streaking. Two prominent wing bars, the lower one extensively yellow. Distinct yellow edging to flight feathers and tail, conspicuous in flight and on folded wing. Some males very yellowish with reduced streaking. Female: similar to male, but yellow in wings and tail greatly reduced. Juvenile: is quite buffy yellow, but fades by late summer.

Similar Species It is the only carduelid that is entirely brown and streaked. All of the Carpodacus finches are considerably larger with thicker bills and lack the yellow flash in the wing characteristic of siskins.

Voice Call: most commonly a buzzy, rising zreeeeee; also gives a harsh, descending chee in flight. Song: a lengthy jumble of trills and whistles similar to that of the American goldfinch, but more huskier.

Status and Distribution Common and gregarious. Breeding: found in coniferous forests of the north and mountainous west. Winter: range erratic from year to year, likely due to fluctuating food supply; can be found virtually anywhere. Often associates with goldfinches.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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