Daily Archives: January 14, 2015

Pine siskins appear

Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins!

First I have seen this winter, though I have been reading on the NH Birds Google Group and on the Facebook Bird Watchers of NH group that there are lots of them in New Hampshire this year.

Pine Siskins and Goldfinches

Here are five Pine Siskins at the thistle/ niger feeder with two of their finch cousins, American Goldfinches. Photos taken this morning around 9:30 a.m.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds

Flocks of tiny Pine Siskins may monopolize your thistle feeder one winter and be absent the next. This nomadic finch ranges widely and erratically across the continent each winter in response to seed crops. Better suited to clinging to branch tips than to hopping along the ground, these brown-streaked acrobats flash yellow wing markings as they flutter while feeding or as they explode into flight.

pine siskin

Very pointy beak for a finch.

Pine siskins are brown and very streaky birds with subtle yellow edgings on wings and tails.

Their Latin name is Pinus spinus.

pine siskins

Pine Siskins often visit feeders in winter (particularly for thistle or nyjer seed) or cling to branch tips of pines and other conifers, sometimes hanging upside down to pick at seeds below them. They are gregarious, foraging in tight flocks and twittering incessantly to each other, even during their undulating flight.


I am feeding them Wagner’s 62053 Nyjer Seed Bird Food from Amazon.

pine siskin

Every couple of years, Pine Siskins make unpredictable movements called irruptions into southern and eastern North America. Though they’re erratic, these movements may not be entirely random. Banding data suggest that some birds may fly west-east across the continent while others move north-south. For more, see this post from Project FeederWatch.

pine siskin

Pine Siskins get through cold nights by ramping up their metabolic rates—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.

Pine Siskins can temporarily store seeds totaling as much as 10% of their body mass in a part of their esophagus called the crop. The energy in that amount of food could get them through 5–6 nighttime hours of subzero temperatures.

It was 8 degrees when I woke up at 5 a.m. It’s 20 now. A cold day, but obviously pine siskins can handle it!

(Autocorrect does not believe in the existence of pine siskins and wants to correct siskins to sissiness. How incorrect!)

Sparrow: white millet

American Tree Sparrow

One of our winter sparrows, the American Tree Sparrow, with a few pearly seeds of white proso millet on its beak.

I avoid seed mixes with too much millet in them. It is inexpensive and therefore often used as filler. But undoubtedly there are birds that like and even prefer millet, like tree sparrows. I have read that birds, especially in the East, prefer white millet to red.

It might be fun to try to grow some white proso millet next summer.

Proso is a warm-season grass and is well-adapted to the warm summer temperatures. It is, however, sensitive to frost and therefore usually is planted in June. Proso has a shallow root system, but because of its short growing season, the water requirements for Proso are less than for most other crops. Nice fodder crop or to add organic matter to enrich your soil. Plant to attract birds such as indigo buntings!

It is a pretty plant:


And when ripe…


Proso is well adapted to many soil and climatic conditions; it has a short growing season, and needs little water. The water requirement of proso is probably the lowest of any major cereal. It is an excellent crop for dryland and no-till farming. Proso millet is an annual grass whose plants reach an average height of 100 cm (4 feet).

All About Birds on white proso millet…

White millet is a favorite with ground-feeding birds including quails, native American sparrows, doves, towhees, juncos, and cardinals. Unfortunately it’s also a favorite with cowbirds and other blackbirds and House Sparrows, which are already subsidized by human activities and supported at unnaturally high population levels by current agricultural practices and habitat changes. When these species are present, it’s wisest to not use millet; virtually all the birds that like it are equally attracted to black oil sunflower.

Well, we don’t have house sparrows and I don’t mind the seasonal visits of blackbirds and a couple of cowbirds. Anyway, in winter my gardens are imaginary.