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 9, 2014

Pine Siskins irrupt southward looking for food

The Pine Siskin, a member of the finch family, is related closely to redpolls and goldfinches. The Siskin is an irruptive species that can be common in mid-Michigan some winters and scarce in others. It’s kind of a drab brown colored bird at first glance. But their neat brown striping and yellow wing tips make them seem dapper.

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.

Pine Siskins eat seeds of alders, birches, spruce, and other trees. They also feed on Nyjer® 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.

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.

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".)
 
Related Articles:
- Birdwatching: Look for the Out-of-Towners http://bit.ly/q6Pkco
- Where do you place finch feeders? http://bit.ly/p4XHU4
- How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d  
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ow20ZD
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU