Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Siskin Winter

Pine Siskins continue to visit the two feeders on our back deck off and on all day every day. They are aggressive little birds, and only a few Goldfinches succeed in getting to the feeders now and then. Early in the mornings, several Siskins swarm both of the feeders, and there’s a whirring of wings and jostling for places as little brown-streaked birds come and go, but they’re more tolerant of others at that time, more intent just on eating as much as they can. Later in the day, one or two particularly greedy Pine Siskins sometimes fend off others and try to keep a feeder to themselves, though there are always a few around to challenge them, and frequently several come together again and there’s another period of group feeding.

Because it’s uncommon for us to have so many Pine Siskins around, I’m trying to take advantage of this chance to watch them – who knows when we’ll have another winter invasion like this. So I watch them for several minutes at a time, and look for something about them to draw my interest, but really can’t find much, other than their rather mysterious and unpredictable nomadic nature. As individuals, they are not particularly appealing or interesting – though that may be my failure of imagination. They just perch or cling and furiously stuff their sharp, thin beaks with seeds, as fast as they can. Stuff, stuff, stuff – raise head and look around, swallow all those little seeds, then stuff, stuff, stuff again. I get the impression their beaks are pink, though they are not. It’s because they are open so much of the time, showing the pink inside of the mouth. In threat or aggressive display, the males seem to open their beaks, too.

They look like what they eat. (Don’t we all!) As if their streaks were made by the scattering flight of the tiny brownish gray seeds they send flying all around them. Their heads and faces are patterned in fine, delicately precise fawn-brown streaks. One or two of them show much more yellow in their wings and tail than others, and these appear to be more often the dominant ones that try to keep others away from the feeders.

In all, I think there are about two or three dozen Pine Siskins staying around in the branches of the trees near our back deck and feeding regularly, but there may be more.


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