Archived Outdoors

Hail, hail the gang’s still here

out natcornI’ve recently been seeing lots of posts like these on Carolina Birders’ FaceBook page:

“… My pine siskins have departed, I am sad to say. I have not seen one in a week... It was such a pleasure having them in abundance, this year. I hope that they return, next winter!”

“… While they were here I was filling it daily, and on some days I would fill it a second time.”

And quite a few who appear to be happy to be siskin-less:

“… Really ... it is time for them to go!” 

We generally have at least a few pine siskins every winter across Western North Carolina, then there are those winters (like this one) when we experience an irruption and will be totally inundated.

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An “irruption” is when winter finches like pine siskins, purple finches, evening grosbeaks, red crossbills, white-winged crossbills, common redpolls and others that usually stay near their boreal nesting grounds wander down the East Coast and farther south. Irruptions seem to be linked to food shortages in the birds’ normal winter range.

Pine siskins are kinda noted for their irruptions across the east and into the Deep South and quite often, when they find a reliable food source, they’re quite content to stay … and stay … and eat … and eat. During pine siskin irruptions, I generally just go straight for the 50-pound bags of sunflower seeds – because, like the Facebook poster above, it’s not uncommon for me to put feed out a couple of times a day.

Pine siskins are goldfinch-sized, brown and boldly streaked (they remind some of sparrows.) They have yellow wing bars and yellow tail coverts that flash when they flutter around the feeder or suddenly take flight.

I remember an irruption four or five years ago, when I reported 80 pine siskins at my feeders during the Great Backyard Bird Count. I was flagged, and it was suggested that perhaps I couldn’t count. This year I only reported 75, but I was flagged again. I was prepared, however, and provided pictures of siskins on my hanging feeder, on my platform feeders, on my deck railing and on the ground under the feeders. This year, the record was accepted.

I can relate to the, “… It is time for them to go!” sentiment expressed above, but I’m not there yet. It will probably cost me another 50-pound bag of sunflower seed, but I like having the constant activity at the feeder. I’ve even gotten use to their continued chatter as they flit around the seeds and their loud shrieking from the treetops as they sit around planning their next soiree to the feeders.

And, if you have siskins at your feeders in Western North Carolina, don’t expect them to be gone any day soon. Of course, they could be, they’re pretty erratic at times, but we have siskins that nest in the mountains of North Carolina, so many aren’t too far from their breeding grounds now. Throw in a ready supply of ample food and there’s really no need for them to go anywhere.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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