Pine siskin

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Pine siskin
Carduelis pinus CT7.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Fringillidae
Genus: Spinus
Species: S. pinus
Binomial name
Spinus pinus
(Wilson, 1810)

Carduelis pinus

The pine siskin (Spinus pinus) is a North American bird in the finch family. It is a migratory bird with an extremely sporadic winter range.


These birds are fairly small, being around the same size as the widespread American goldfinch. In both sexes, total length can range from 11–14 cm (4.3–5.5 in), with a wingspan of 18–22 cm (7.1–8.7 in) and weight of 12–18 g (0.42–0.63 oz).[2]

Adults are brown on the upperparts and pale on the underparts, with heavy streaking throughout. They have short forked tails. Their bills are conical like most finches but are more elongated and slender than those of other co-occurring finches. Variably, pine siskins have yellow patches on their wings and tails, which may also consist of white streaks on the wings. Although they can be confused by the more inexperienced for other finches or even American sparrows, pine siskins are distinguished by their heavy streaking, relatively slender bills, notched tail, yellow or whitish patches on the wings and smallish size.

Separation from European siskin[edit]

Pine siskin in its typical morph is a drab bird, whereas European siskin (a bird the species does not naturally co-exist with), in many plumages, is much brighter. Adult male European siskins are bright green and yellow with a black cap, and an unstreaked throat and breast; pine siskin does not have a corresponding bright plumage. Adult female European siskins also usually have green and yellow plumage tones: for example, yellow in the supercilium and on the sides of the breast, green tones in the mantle and yellow in the rump. Adult pine siskins of the typical morph do not have green and yellow tones, although juveniles can have a yellowish-buff wash on their underparts and buff-toned wingbars, for a short period prior to their autumn migration. The ground colour of the underparts of European siskin is normally pure white, whereas on pine siskin it is usually a dirtier colour. In female and juvenile European siskin, the centre of the belly and lower breast are often largely or entirely unstreaked, whereas in most pine siskins the streaking extends across the whole of the underparts. The wingbars of European siskin are broad and yellow (with the tips white) whereas they are normally narrower and buffish-white in pine siskin, contrasting with the bright yellow flash at the base of the primaries. Pine siskins have a longer bill, usually with a straight culmen, compare with a short bill in European siskin, with a decurved culmen. There is a green morph of pine siskin, closer in appearance to European siskin; these birds make up only 1% of the population. These are closer in appearance to female European siskin, but differ in that they have a yellow-wash on the undertail-coverts (white on European siskin), no yellow in the supercilium, reduced underparts streaking, and much yellow at the base of the tail and remiges; there may also be a difference in the extent of yellow in the underparts but this needs further study.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Their breeding range spreads across almost the entirety of Canada, Alaska and, to a more variable degree, across the western mountains and northern parts of the United States. As their name indicates, the species occurs mostly as a breeder in open conifer forests. Northern pine forests supports the majority of the species breeding population. However, stands of ornamental conifers or deciduous trees may support nesting birds in partially developed parks, cemeteries, and suburban woodlands. While they favor feeding in open forest canopies where cone seeds are abundant, they'll forage in habitats as diverse as deciduous forests and thickets, meadows, grasslands, weedy fields, roadsides, chaparral, and backyard gardens and lawns. They flock to backyard feeders offering small seeds. Mineral deposits can lure them to otherwise unattractive habitats like winter road beds that are salted to melt snow and ice. The nest is well-hidden on a horizontal branch of a tree, often a conifer.[2]

Migration by this bird is highly variable, probably related to food supply. Large numbers may move south in some years; hardly any in others. This species is one of a few species that are considered "irruptive winter finches" because of the high variability of their movements based on the success of crops from year to year.



Siskins feeding on thistle seeds

These birds forage in trees, shrubs and weeds. They mainly eat seeds, plant parts and some insects. In winter, they often feed in mixed flocks including American goldfinches and redpolls. Small seeds, especially thistle, red alder, birch, and spruce seeds, make up the majority of the pine siskin's diet. In a part of their esophagus called the crop, the species can store up to 10% of their body weight in seeds overnight, providing extra food on cold days.[2] They will alternately eat the young buds of willows, elms and maples, and the soft stems and leaves of weeds and even young garden vegetables. They'll glean the seeds of grass, dandelions, chickweed, sunflowers and ragweed. Bird feeders often attract pine siskins, where they may eat fragments of heavy-shelled seeds, such as black oil sunflowers, left behind by heavier-billed bird species. In summer, they will eat many insects, especially aphids, as well as a few spiders and grubs, which they then feed to the young as a protein-rich food that contributes to their growth. By the time of winter, even first year siskins predominately eat seeds.[2]

Pine siskins can survive in very cold temperatures. The metabolic rates of this species are typically 40% higher than a "normal" songbird of their size. When temperatures plunge as low as −70 °C (−94 °F), they can accelerate that rate up to five times normal for several hours. They also put on half again as much winter fat as their common redpoll and American goldfinch relatives. They also can protect their young from cold as well. Nests are often heavily insulated with thick plant materials and females may literally never cease incubating their eggs and hatchlings, while being fed by their male mate.[2]

Conservation status[edit]

Although considered Washington's most common finch, the pine siskin has suffered a significant annual decline in population since 1966, according to the Breeding Bird Survey. Due to the irruptive nature of this species, populations vary widely from year to year, and trends can be difficult to interpret. Parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds can have a significant impact on pine siskin productivity, and forest fragmentation has increased their contact with cowbirds. Maintaining large tracts of coniferous forest will help keep this bird common.

Taxonomy and evolution[edit]

• The Eurasian siskin, S. spinus is the ancestor of pine siskin, Antillean siskin, S. dominicensis, and black-capped siskin, S. atriceps. The sub-species S. pinus perplexus may be closer to S. atriceps; they both thrive in the Guatemalan-Mexican altiplano.[4]

• This siskin seems to belong to the North American Spinus/Carduelis evolutive radiation, whose parental species is the Eurasian siskin. This finch may have displaced from America to the parental species Eurasian siskin.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Carduelis pinus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e All About Birds Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  3. ^ Lethaby(1997) - reference relates to whole paragraph
  4. ^ Arnaiz-Villena A, Ruiz-del-Valle V, Moscoso J, Serrano Vela JI, Zamora J. (2007). "mtDNA phylogeography of North American Carduelis pinus group of birds" (PDF). Ardeola 54: 1–14. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  5. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, A; Areces C, Rey D, Enríquez-de-Salamanca M, Alonso-Rubio J and Ruiz-del-Valle V (2012). "Three Different North American Siskin/Goldfinch Evolutionary Radia-tions (Genus Carduelis): Pine Siskin Green Morphs and European Siskins in America" (PDF). The Open Ornithology Journal 5: 73–81. doi:10.2174/1874453201205010073. 
  6. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, Antonio; Alvarez-Tejado M.; Ruiz-del-Valle V.; García-de-la-Torre C.; Varela P; Recio M. J.; Ferre S.; Martinez-Laso J. (1998). "Phylogeny and rapid Northern and Southern Hemisphere speciation of goldfinches during the Miocene and Pliocene Epochs" (PDF). Cell.Mol.Life.Sci. 54(9):1031-41. 
  7. ^ Zamora, J; Moscoso J; Ruiz-del-Valle V; Ernesto L; Serrano-Vela JI; Ira-Cachafeiro J; Arnaiz-Villena A (2006). "Conjoint mitochondrial phylogenetic trees for canaries Serinus spp. and goldfinches Carduelis spp. show several specific polytomies" (PDF). Ardeola. 53(1): 1–17. 
  8. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, A; Gómez-Prieto P; Ruiz-de-Valle V (2009). "Phylogeography of finches and sparrows". Nova Science Publishers. ISBN 978-1-60741-844--3. 
  9. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, A.; Guillén, J.; Ruiz-del-Valle, V.; Lowy, E.; Zamora, J.; Varela, P.; Stefani, D.; Allende, L. M. (2001). "Phylogeography of crossbills, bullfinches, grosbeaks, and rosefinches" (PDF). Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 58 (8): 1159–1166. doi:10.1007/PL00000930. PMID 11529508. 
  10. ^ Zamora, Jorge; Lowy E; Ruiz-del-Valle V; Moscoso J; Serrano-Vela JI; Rivero-de-Aguilar J; Arnaiz-Villena A (2006). "Rhodopechys obsoleta (desert finch): a pale ancestor of greenfinches according to molecular phylogeny" (PDF). J Ornithol 147: 448–56. doi:10.1007/s10336-005-0036-2. 
  11. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, A.; Moscoso, J.; Ruiz-del-Valle, V.; Gonzalez, J.; Reguera, R.; Wink, M.; Serrano-Vela, J. I. (2007). "Bayesian phylogeny of Fringillidae birds: status of the singular African oriole finch Linurgus olivaceus and evolution and heterogeneity of the genus Carpodacus" (PDF). Acta Zoologica Sinica 53 (5): 826–834. Retrieved 14 December 2009. 
  12. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, A; Moscoso J; Ruiz-del-Valle V; González J; Reguera R; Ferri A; Wink M; Serrano-Vale JI (2008). "Mitochondrial DNA Phylogenetic Definition of a Group`of "Arid-Zone" Carduelini Finches" (PDF). The Open Ornithology Journal 1: 1–7. doi:10.2174/1874453200801010001. 

Further reading[edit]


  • Dawson, W. R. 1997. Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus). In The Birds of North America, No. 280 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.




  • Astheimer L, Ramenofsky M, Wingfield JC & Buttemer W. (1989). Corticosterone Feeding Behavior and Food Deprivation in Passerine Birds. American Zoologist. vol 29, no 4.
  • Astheimer LB, Buttemer WA & Wingfield JC. (1992). Interactions of corticosterone with feeding, activity and metabolism in passerine birds. Ornis Scandinavica. vol 23, no 3. p. 355-365.
  • Balph DF & Balph MH. (1979). Behavioral Flexibility of Pine Siskins in Mixed Species Foraging Groups. Condor. vol 81, no 2. p. 211-212.
  • Benkman CW & Lindholm AK. (1991). The Advantages and Evolution of a Morphological Novelty. Nature. vol 349, no 6309. p. 519-520.
  • Bennetts RE & Hutto RL. (1985). Attraction of Social Fringillids to Mineral Salts an Experimental Study. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 56, no 2. p. 187-189.
  • Bledsoe AH. (1988). Nuclear DNA Evolution and Phylogeny of the New World Nine-Primaried Oscines. Auk. vol 105, no 3. p. 504-515.
  • Brogden KA & Packer RA. (1979). Comparison of Pasteurella-Multocida Serotyping Systems. American Journal of Veterinary Research. vol 40, no 9. p. 1332-1335.
  • Brown WB. (1986). Late Pine Siskins in Ben Hill County Georgia USA. Oriole. vol 51, no 2-3.
  • Buttemer WA, Astheimer LB & Wingfield JC. (1991). The Effect of Corticosterone on Standard Metabolic Rates of Small Passerine Birds. Journal of Comparative Physiology B Biochemical Systemic & Environmental Physiology. vol 161, no 4. p. 427-432.
  • Cook AG. (1984). Birds of the Desert Region of Uintah County Utah USA. Great Basin Naturalist. vol 44, no 4. p. 584-620.
  • Dawson WR & Marsh RL. (1986). Winter Fattening in the American Goldfinch Carduelis-Tristis and the Possible Role of Temperature in Its Regulation. Physiological Zoology. vol 59, no 3. p. 357-368.
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