Mewsings from Millie
People come into the store all the time and mention a bird they have seen that kind of looks like a Goldfinch but at the same time, it isn't. The bird has been seen eating nyjer thistle and sunflower chips just like a goldfinch. What is it? Most likely it is a Pine Siskin. How can you tell them apart?
The Pine Siskin is a small, brown streaky bird with yellow edging on its wings and at the base of its tail. It has a sharp, pointed bill and a short, notched tail. An acrobatic bird, it will flash its yellow wing markings as it flutters at a feeder or takes off in flight.
Pine Siskins can monopolize your thistle feeder one year and be totally absent the next. They are nomadic and range widely and erratically across the continent in response to seed crops. If there is a dependable food source, Pine Siskins may breed far south of the normal breeding range.
Pine Siskins have a metabolic rate that is typically 40% higher than other songbirds of their size. When temperatures are extremely cold they can accelerate that rate up to five times normal for several hours. They put on half again as much winter fat as their other finch relatives.
The nest of the Pine Siskin is highly insulated to protect eggs from the cold, too. The female remains on the nest continuously fed by the male throughout brooding.
Pine Siskins can store seeds temporarily in a part of their esophagus called the crop. The amount of seed can total as much as 10% of their body mass. The energy in that amount of food can get them through 5 - 6 hours of subzero temperatures.
Adult Male American Goldfinch Winter Plumage
The American Goldfinch is a handsome finch and the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa and Washington. In the winter, adult males are a drab olive-brown with blackish wings and two white wingbars. In the spring and early summer, adult males are bright yellow with a black forehead, black wings with white markings and white patches both above and beneath the tail. Adult females are duller yellow beneath and olive above.
American Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world. They select an entirely vegetable diet and inadvertently swallow an occasional insect.
American Goldfinches breed later than most North American birds waiting to nest until June or July.
American Goldfinches are the only finch that molts its body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer.
So, there you have it. You may see these birds together on a feeder as in the photo below. Can you guess who's coming to dinner?
Until next time,
Millie, the Muse of Mews
American Goldfinch & Pine Siskin
Female American Goldfinch