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The red siskin (Spinus cucullata) is a small passerine bird. This finch is a resident breeding bird in tropical South America in northern Colombia and northern Venezuela (where it's called "cardenalito"). The introduced population on Trinidad is believed to be extinct, with no sightings since 1960.
Some hope has been given to this highly endangered species by the discovery in 2003 of a population of several thousand birds in southern Guyana, 1000 km from any previously known colony. Otherwise the world population is believed to be between 600-6000 pairs.
The red siskin is found in open country, forest edges and grassland with trees or shrubs. The female is believed to lay 3 greenish white eggs in a grassy cup nest in a tree. It was common in the early twentieth century, occurring throughout the foothills of northern Venezuela but has now become extremely rare in a fragmented range.
The red siskin is about 10 cm long. The male is mainly deep red, with black on the head, throat, flight feathers and tail tip, and a whitish lower belly and undertail. The female is grey on the head, breast, and uppperparts, apart from a red rump and uppertail. The breast is grey with reddish flanks, and the rest of the underparts, the wings and tail resemble the corresponding areas of the male. Immature females are paler than the adults, and immature males are brown rather than red.
Red siskins eat seeds, and are highly gregarious. When they were more numerous they formed semi-nomadic flocks.
The siskin has been illegally trapped for the cage bird trade and endangered by environmental factors. Domestication has probably been responsible for the continuation of the species, which might overwise be extinct. This is an attractive finch with a pleasant song, and its unique coloration for a small finch (most are predominantly yellow) has led to it being used for interbreeding with domesticated canaries to produce varieties with red in the plumage.
- Birds of Venezuela by Hilty, ISBN 0-7136-6418-5
- French, Richard (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago (2nd ed.). Comstock Publishing. ISBN 0-8014-9792-2.
- Finches and sparrows by Clement, Harris and Davis, ISBN 0-7136-8017-2
- 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). Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 54 (9): 1031–41. doi:10.1007/s000180050230.