Have you ever noticed how often when you spend a chunk of time watching birds, that just when you are thinking, “I’m cold. It’s time to go in” or, “All I’m seeing out the window are House Finches,” that this is the time when suddenly you see something new? I suspect that this happens because you’ve sat still long enough for the birds that have been eyeing you decide that you are not an immediate threat and go about their business.
If you hang out around the birds in your yard a lot, all but the least skittish tend to get used to you and while they usually are not be comfortable getting really close, once they are used to your habits, if you move slowly and aren’t threatening and don’t head straight for them, they’ll often settle down. But new birds to the yard, or the more tentative birds, may take a bit longer to decide to take the chance of coming to the feeder when you are watching. So sometimes you need to wait a bit to see something new.
Today I was at just this point of stopping my bird watching to get some other things done, when I realized that I was looking at something a little different. With rain expected later in the day, the local goldfinches have been very active at all the feeders. There are typically about forty-some of them around my yard and when you have that many, you can sometimes see them as a group and not as individuals. But if you look closely at birds that you assume you have identified, sometimes the bird you think is one thing is actually something else.
I was looking at the Squirrel Buster Plus feeder outside my dinning room window when I noticed a tiny bird clinging to the shepherd’s hook holding this hanging feeder. I thought, “Wow, that is a very tiny goldfinch . . . Wait! It’s got a streaky chest. It’s something else! Cool!” Yep, it was a Pine Siskin and it came with two friends.
Pine Siskins are found in my area (central Maryland) but are not a bird I’ve seen in my yard before. As the name suggests, they like pines, but in the winter they’ll show up at backyard bird feeders in this area. I’d seen pictures of them and watched for them, but because in the pictures they look a bit similar to House Finches, I had been expecting them to be House Finch-sized. These little guys are actually smaller than Goldfinches. They are slimmer though, and have a thinner beak. Because of the streaky chest, they look a bit like a too-small House Finch but they’ve got yellow along the edges of their wings and tail. When they flit around you can see little flashes of yellow.
Like Goldfinches, Pine Siskins like Nyjer seed (a.k.a. thistle.) Because I’ve got so many Goldfinches in my yard, I’ve currently got three Nyjer tube feeders plus a couple of Nyjer socks that I fill up when they are really active and are jockeying for position at the tube feeders. They also seem to like sunflower hearts as they were in my hanging platform feeder eating them with the Goldfinches. So with all this food in the yard, I’m hopeful these little guys will hang around.
To learn more about Pine Siskins, check out All About Birds’ Pine Siskin page. This site, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is an excellent source of information about birds, with pictures to help you figure out what bird you’ve seen (as well as pictures of similar looking birds in case you are unsure of what you’ve seen), recordings of their songs and calls, and lots of information about their behavior, where they live, what they eat, etc. If you like birds, it is a site you’ll want to have bookmarked.
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