About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Plain, little, brown striped bird that looks similar to a sparrow

Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Finches (Fringillidae)

Description
The adult male Pine Siskin is grayish brown with conspicuous brown striping. The wing and base of the tail have conspicuous yellow trimming. The Siskin is about 4.5 to 5.25 inches long, and weighs about 12g (1.5 oz).
 

Behavior 
Pine Siskins eat seeds of alders, birches, spruce, and other trees. They also feed on thistle and other weed seeds, forbs, buds, insects, and spiders. They are attracted to salt licks and salt treated highways in the winter and sometimes drink sap at drill wells created by sapsuckers.

General

As winter approaches, Pine Siskins become considerably plumper to help them survive. Each bird can pack sufficient seeds into its expandable esophagus to support itself through five hours of rest at -4 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.


Most years, siskins do not stray too far from their breeding territories in the northern tier of the United States and across Canada into Alaska. The “mast” produced by northern conifers is usually plentiful, and siskins use the seeds as fuel to survive the coldest winters.

Mast is a noun of Anglo-Saxon origin (m├Žst) that refers to the accumulation of various kinds of seeds and nuts that serve as food for animals. The process by which trees produce mast is known as masting. The curious thing about masting is that it is not a continuous process, but rather is cyclic. Approximately every three to five years certain trees produce enormous quantities of seeds and in between the masts they will produce almost none.

So in years when mast production is more uniformly depressed, Pine Siskins irrupt southward looking for food.

At a casual glance, Siskins look like plain, little, brown striped sparrows that mostly confine themselves to evergreen forests. In winter months, they congregate and move about in flocks numbering from a few individuals up to thousands of individuals. Even though these birds occur across North America, many have never seen this bird, or having seen it, did not realize it as a distinct species. When they do arrive, they mix in with flocks of goldfinches at Nyjer® (thistle) feeders, and brighten up a drab winter day with their loud and cheerful "zzziip" song. (The word "Siskin" is of Scandinavian origin and means "chirper".)

According to Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast only a very small number of siskins are expected to irrupt south into mid-Michigan. But make sure to wash your feeders at least once a month or bring them in to our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan for us to clean.

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