Pine Siskin, Spinus pinus

The Pine Siskin is a regular winter visitor to Tennessee, but its abundance varies greatly from year to year. This is one of the "irruptive" winter finches and the variation in the number of wintering birds is thought to be associated with annual variations in the production of northern conifer cones.

The Pine Siskin is a gregarious species and is usually found in flocks during the winter when it often visits thistle seed bird feeders. Pine Siskins are regularly observed in the summer in East Tennessee at higher elevations, but nesting has only recently been confirmed on Roan Mountain. It is not uncommon for siskins to remain and nest far south of the normal breeding range following a large irruptive winter.

The Pine Siskin range extends across Alaska and Canada to the northern United States and the western mountains. In some winters, they remain throughout the breeding range, in others, they migrate south as far as the Gulf Coast.

Description: The Pine Siskin is a small, heavily streaked brown finch with a thin, pointed bill, and a short, notched tail. Yellow patches in the wing and tail are especially visible in flight. The male and female look similar, but the male tends to have more yellow. Pine Siskins generally forage in flocks high in trees, and their call notes, which are frequently given in flight, often reveal their presence.

Length: 5"
Wingspan: 9"
Weight: 0.53 oz

Voice: The call is a buzzy ascending zzzzzeeeeep. The fight call is a high, sharp ji ji ji.

Similar Species:

Habitat: Pine Siskins breed in open coniferous and mixed coniferous-deciduous forests; in winter they are found in coniferous and deciduous forests, as well as residential areas with thistle seed birdfeeders.

Diet: Small seeds; also tree buds, insects, and spiders.

Status in Tennessee: Pine Siskins are an unpredictable winter visitor across the state and a rare summer visitor in East Tennessee. There are numerous summer records from Roan Mountain and occasionally from Shady Valley. The first nest for this species in Tennessee was found in May 2007 at 4,450 feet elevation on Roan Mountain; another nest was found near that same location in 2008.

Fun Facts:

  • The Pine Siskin is gregarious even in the breeding season. They nest in loose colonies, and pairs may visit one another's nests. The nest is defended against other Pine Siskins primarily during egg laying and incubation. Breeding birds flock together to forage.
  • Following a large irruptive winter flight, some individuals may stay near a dependable food source and breed far south of the normal breeding range.

Obsolete English Names: pine finch, pine linnet, American siskin

Best places to see in Tennessee: The occurrence of Pine Siskins in Tennessee is unpredictable winter-to-winter. In irruption years they can be found across the state foraging in flocks in the tree canopy, and frequently visit thistle seed bird feeders.