Friday, April 17, 2009

The Winter of the Siskins

Winter days are days for bird watching from the comfort of a warm recliner. We have well over a dozen feeders up each year; thistle, black oil sunflower seeds, mixed grain and suet cakes attract a regular contingent of at least eighteen species each winter day.
I think this winter will be remembered as the time of the Pine Siskins (Carduelis pinus ).Many winters it is Goldfinches that mob the thistle feeders and we have just a few Pine Siskins although now and then a larger flock may come for a few days. But this winter our thistle feeders are usually filled with siskins - joined by only the occasional determined American Goldfinch.
A large flock of the siskins- several hundred birds - arrived in late fall and have remained in varying numbers all winter long. I’ve read that the Pine Siskin's winter visits to the United States occur mainly in years when the seed crop has failed in the boreal forests. They are acrobats, often hanging upside down, like titmice and chickadees, plucking seeds from hanging seedpods and cones.
The birds are so hungry and eat so rapidly there is a constant shower of thistle hulls falling to the ground. I expect we are going to find the soil under the feeders makes some unusually nice compost for our garden in a year or so. We have begun to wonder whether or not we will need to cut back on our groceries so that we can continue to supply our voracious visitors with Nyjer Thistle. Our siskins are eating their way through about twenty-five pounds of seed a week! Just like oil sunflower, the high oil content of Nyjer makes it an energy packed food that is highly desirable for any bird adapted to eating small seeds. Since it is shipped across the ocean from Ethiopia and India and has to be heat sterilized to kill out any weed seeds, it is rather expensive bird food but there is nothing else available that is as attractive to Pine Siskins and Goldfinches.
I understand that Nyjer is a native of Ethiopia and apparently it is not a thistle at all but is in fact a relative of the beautiful cosmos that we enjoy as a garden flower here in the United States. Our other winter residents have had to push their way through the crowds of siskins to receive their usual rations. We have moved a number of black oil sunflower seed feeders away from the thistle feeders so the other birds can have a chance at the food.

Siskin calls are amazing when one hears a large flock just outside the window. They have a short sweet call followed by a loud sharp buzzing zrreeeeet.

I had expected the siskins to head north as soon as the ground thawed and we had a few sunny days — although a few have gone - today our oak and maple trees are covered with pine siskins sitting among the deep red maple blossoms. Cornell Lab indicates that following a large irruptive winter fligh some individuals may stay near a dependable food source and breed far south of the normal breeding range. So, if the seed holds out, our siskins may be here for a while.


Blogger Rowan said...

How marvellous to have so many siskins - though maybe not so marvellous paying their grocery bill! I have nyjer seed feeders too and this year we've had several siskins along with goldfinches and redpolls. The siskins and redpolls are really unusual visitors for us so we've been excited by their presence.
I think you have a long wait before I'm in a position to get around to your drawer:)

4:01 PM  
Blogger robin andrea said...

This is the first year in many that we don't have any feeders up. I miss the birds so much. That's why it is so wonderful to read about yours and see these photos. Those siskins are just beautiful.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Chancy said...

Such beautiful birds. I don't think we have any siskins as far south as Georgia where I live.

My bird bath on my deck attracts many cardinals and the male in particular is hilarious when he baths. Twisting and turning and fluffing his feathers up he seems almost human in his enjoyment.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Pam in Tucson said...

How lovely to have pine siskins. Our nyjer thistle feeds house finches and lesser gold finches. If we put up too many other types, we attract hundreds of white-winged and (later) mourning doves, so this winter we've stuck to the nyjer and to sugar water for the hummingbirds (and the thieving Gila woodpeckers who try to chase them away). I've so enjoyed your Spring photos. We've had such mysterious weather. Last week: hail in the valley and snow in the mountains. Today - in the 80s and the prickly pear is in bloom. Looking forward to more of your beautiful countryside photos and also to the continuing saga of the ever-growing Kody.

12:05 AM  
Blogger NCmountainwoman said...

We were inundated with so many Pine Siskins that we took down all the feeders except for the suet. The siskins were so numerous and disruptive that the other birds stayed away. The siskins finally moved on and the feeders are relatively calm again.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Your Siskin photos are very good! Like you, I was purchasing 10 lbs. of niger seed a week! Around the first of the year, flocks of twenty or more were here for two weeks. Their numbers have dwindled to just a few now. A relief, in a way...

Enjoy them. They certainly made a showing this year.


10:24 PM  
Blogger Sky said...

i had never seen the siskins until i landed her in puget sound. now they join our chickadees and nuthatches at the feeders. we, too, have years of low siskin populations.

nice photos.

3:37 AM  
Blogger Quiet Paths said...

I really enjoyed these. You must have to buy 25 pound bags of seed at a time to fill so many feeders. Wonderful that you do this. That is a lot of birds.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Elderwoman said...

And we thought our finches and siskins got through a lot of nyjer seed!
Love your pics.

4:06 AM  
Blogger Ontario Wanderer said...

I am still hearing the Pine Siskins here in southern Ontario too. Often I don't see them during the winter but this year was special. Red Polls and Crossbills showed up too.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Catherine said... many! They are beautiful!
And so are your captures of them!

6:10 PM  
Blogger Lené Gary said...

What an interesting post, Endment. I especially enjoyed the details you included about the seeds and bird habits. :)

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't seen that many siskins out of the woods. We had lots of redpolls this year for the first time in a long while. Now I know why.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Ascender Rises Above said...

wow - what amazing shots. I thought a couple were paintings and had to look close; so delicate of a shot.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

I loved this report - do you know I'd never heard of siskins before? Isn't it great when you learn something new? They certainly look very cute.

11:18 PM  
Blogger daringtowrite said...

I especially love that last shot.

1:58 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

I just discovered your blog after doing a search for trillium. Thank you for the lovely photos and words! I love getting out there with my camera and looking, breathing it all in, discovering the many waiting worlds, listening for the words to my poetry to flutter closer.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Susanne49 said...

I love your bird photography, special the last one is so sweet!

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I have NOT eaten the 72oz steak, no,no,no...I can not do that, even 16 oz was too much for me - but it was delicious.

Yes, they still do offer Rattelsnake meat, I don't think it's mt favorite meal...LOL... and they have also a real snake in the back of the gift shop - behind glass of course :)

Nice to talk to you!

11:20 AM  

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