Species of the month: January - Siskin

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Common Name: Siskin

Scientific Name: Spinus spinus

Identification: The siskin is a small and active finch, roughly the size of a blue tit. Males have a bright greenish-yellow body with a black crown. Females are duller, without the black crown. Both sexes have striped undersides, a yellow bar on the wing (more conspicuous on the males) and a distinctive forked tail. Juveniles resemble the female, but are more streaked and buffer in colour.

Diet: Siskins are mainly granivores (seed-eaters) and generally eats seeds from cone-producing trees, such as alder, birch, spruce and pine. When raising their young, they focus their attention on insects, providing the nestlings with essential proteins they need to grow.

Behaviour: During the winter, siskins can form small flocks whilst they feed. They are quite bold at this time of year, and are not greatly disturbed by the presence of people near bird feeders (although it’s always best to give wildlife its space!). They are quite acrobatic, and will often hang upside-down on feeders. You’re more likely to see them in your garden on wet days – cones containing the seeds they like to eat stay shut in wet weather, so they will go looking for food at feeding stations instead.

Where can they be found?: Siskins are often found at the tops of trees in conifer plantations. Here they eat the seeds from the cones on the conifers, and also build their nests. In the winter though, they can frequently be found visiting feeders, so keep your eyes peeled in your own garden to spot these beautiful birds.

Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves that are good for siskins include Higher Hyde Heath (near Wareham) and Upton Heath near Poole. 

Factoid
  • During the breeding season, siskins become timid and are less frequently seen by people. In fact, there is a German myth which says that siskins guard a magical stone in their nests which renders them invisible!

  • The siskin is the subject of a traditional Czech folk song, “Čížečku, čížečku” (Siskin, o little siskin) that was sung at harvest time in the hopes of boosting the poppy yield!

  • Siskins are one of only a few bird species which show allopatric feeding: subordinate adults provide food to the dominant bird.

Wildife Gardening Tips:

  • Siskins are particularly fond of peanuts; top up your bird feeders with peanuts at this time of year to attract siskins to your garden, and make sure to frequently clean the feeders.
  • Make sure to provide water for birds and other animals at this time of year. If it freezes, melt the ice or provide new water. In ponds, put a floating object like a ball in the water, and remove it when the surface is frozen to leave a hole to access the water.
  • If you have the space, plant native trees like alder and birch to provide a natural food source for siskins and many other species too.

Let us know if you've seen a siskin below...

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