NOT ALL SPARROW-LIKE BIRDS ARE ACTUALLY SPARROWS

       Chipping sparrows far outnumber any other sparrow that I see on or beneath my feeders.  However, if I take the time to examine a flock of sparrows foraging for seeds in my bird feeding area, I sometimes discover a white-throated sparrow sparrow or two.  This week, when I perused what I thought was a small flock of sparrows, I was pleasantly surprised that I to learn I was actually looking at a flock of pine siskins.  For weeks, pine siskins have been seen across much of the northern portion of the state, but they had not reached my Middle Georgia yard until a few days ago.

       Pine siskins are often mistaken for sparrows.  It is small (4.3-5.5 inches long), brown and covered my streaks much like some of the sparrows.  However, the bill of the pine siskin is very sharp and pointed whereas the bills of sparrows are more conical and blunt.  Two white wing bars highlight bird’s wings.  Splashes of yellow can also been seen on their wings and forked tail.  Often these yellow feathers are most easily seen when the bird is fluttering its  pointed wings.

       Another thing that I have noticed is the pine siskins are full of energy and move about much more than sparrows. In addition, when they visit feeders they often fuss with one another as well as other birds.  If you are in a position to hear their harsh, soft calls, you will find that they are constantly communicating with each other as they dine.

       They are also extremely tame.  Often they allow me to walk within 10-15 of them while they are feeding. 

       More often than not, they travel about in flocks.  Currently I am feeding 10-15 birds each day.  However, flocks of 20+ are not uncommon.

     Unfortunately, I only see pine siskins every few years or so.  When flights of siskins are seen deep into the Southeast it is a sign that there is a shortage of seeds produced by a variety of conifer trees that provide their favorite food.

       If you want to attract pine siskins to your feeders, provide these migrants with plenty of nyger and sunflower seeds.

       One word of caution:  keep your bird feeding area clean.  Mounting evidence suggests they are highly vulnerable to salmonella.  This is one of the common diseases transmitted to birds feeding on the wet, deteriorating food that often collects beneath bird feeders.

       Sadly, it is becoming more difficult to enjoy the sight of a flock of pine siskins feeding in our backyards.  It seems that according to Partner’s In Flight pine siskins numbers have dropped 80% since 1970.  Let’s all hope this alarming trend will soon be reversed so that the sights and sounds pine siskins will never disappear.

7 thoughts on “NOT ALL SPARROW-LIKE BIRDS ARE ACTUALLY SPARROWS

  1. We’ve been feeding a flock of 30+ pine siskins the past two weeks in Blackstock, SC. They have been so much fun to watch as they squabble over the feeders and fuss with each other. I just recently started feeding sunflower hearts which they eat voraciously. I have also been able to get very close to them, actually reaching out and touching the feeder while they are on it.

  2. Mitzi,

    I wish I knew why pine siskins have taken so long to make it the Middle Georgia. Your description of their tameness has me looking forward to the time they will allow me to get that close to them. For some reason, the birds I have seen so far and very flighty.

    Terry

  3. I do not yet have pine siskins in my yard down in Tallahassee, but today I found a female goldfinch feeding on my fly through feeder and for the first time a yellow-rumped warbler pecking at my suet cake feeder. I continue to see a purple finch or two because of the eruption this year! I am having to examine every chipper now to make sure I don’t have a sneaky bird in the midst!

    • David,

      Sighting siskins that far south is great. According the the Peterson Field Guide they don’t get that far south. I believe the editors need to update the range on this nomadic bird since the birds obviously don’t read the field guide!

      Terry

  4. Hi, Terry. I love your blog. For the first time in 14 years of birding in Milton, GA, I have a flock of 50 plus pine siskens that arrived in December. They are tame and can empty a feeder within hours. I routinely clean my feeder and move the location but this week I noticed several obviously sick birds. I have not put the feeder back out. Do you know when they usually return to the north? They seem to just be hanging out in my yard and I am concerned about all the other birds I cultivated over the years. Thanks so much.

  5. Lisa,

    I apologize for not responding sooner to your post. I thought I had already responded to all of the inquiries regarding this subject, but today I found your post at the bottom of the list.
    As such you probably have already noticed siskins have been on the move for the past few weeks. I only have one currently visiting my feeder. Siskins are more vulnerable to diseases spread at feeders than most of our feeder birds. In addition, our relative warm, moist weather has contributed to an uptick the reports of dead and dying birds at feeders. If you will pull up my post (Disease Often Plague Bird Feeders During Warm Weather) you will find tips regarding remedies to this problem.
    Again, I apologize for taking this long to respond to your request.

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