As far as Georgians are concerned, the pine siskin is a boom-or-bust bird. By that, I mean some winters they feed at our backyard feeders in large numbers and then are not seen again for years.
This year is shaping up to be a boom year. Many Georgians have already been treated to the sight of pine siskins visiting their feeders
This behavior is not unique to the pine siskin. The list other birds exhibit this behavior includes the purple finch and red-breasted nuthatch. This odd behavior qualifies them as being irruptive.
An irruptive species is one that irregularly winters well beyond its normal winter range. Although, it is extremely difficult to predict when an irruptive winter flight will occur, such flights often occur every two to ten years.
A number of factors seem to trigger these movements. However, in most cases, a failure of the bird’s most important winter food crops is the culprit. In the case of the pine siskin, failures in pine and alder seeds crops seem to be linked to their mass migrations into the Deep South.
To me, pine siskins display a subtle beauty. They are smaller than an American goldfinch. Their bodies are covered with brown streaks. However, their tails and wings are highlighted will yellow feathers. On the other hand, pine siskin bills are short and far more sharp-pointed compared to the bills of goldfinches, house finches, and sparrows.
One reason backyard wildlife enthusiasts are so fond of them is they are extremely tame. If you slowly approach them while they are feeding, the birds will often allow you to walk to within a few feet before flying off.
Although they will occasionally eat suet, they are particularly fond of nyger and black oil sunflower seeds. They also routinely drink and bathe at birdbaths.
Interestingly while they are in Georgia, pine siskins are extremely nomadic. A flock feeding in your yards today might suddenly leave and feed in backyard miles away. In one instance, a wintering pine siskin did not stay put in the yard where it was banded. Later is the same winter it was recaptured at a feeder located some 450 miles away.
If you have never seen a pine siskin in your backyard, this may be there year you will. If you have hosted pine siskins in the past, the winter of 2018-2019 may be the year you will get to renew an old acquaintance.