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.
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.