Commentary: Surviving the Pine Siskin Invasion

Where you see one Pine Siskin, you see forty.

This is one bird that refuses to travel alone. Pine Siskins travel in large flocks and can empty a bird feeder faster than my youngest son’s hardcore band can strip down a refrigerator leaving nothing but steak sauce and pickle juice.

But as the quickly as the Siskins appear, they may also disappear.

The Siskins are a nomadic bird and have no fixed (or, perhaps, no discernable) migrating pattern. They may fly in and stay for weeks, or just touch down for an afternoon — just long enough to empty the feeder.

Pine Siskens are a lively and gregarious bird. They are always the last ones to flutter off as I step out onto my porch to refill the feeders. They have a way of making me feel a bit guilty as they sit just out of reach, looking at me as if to say, “Where have you been? We’re hungry!”

The bird I’m holding in the photo published inside my column every week is a young Pine Siskin. The little bird flew into my son’s hands as he was pressure washing my front porch and then afterward splashed around in the water puddles. This young Siskin seemed to have no fear, typical of the species.

They are the smallest of the winter finches, but they also seem to be the feistiest. I’ve seen many a tiny Siskin scold a much larger bird encroaching on their territory and win the battle without even having to put up a fight.

The Pine Siskin is closely related to the American Goldfinch and they will often be seen in mixed flocks with the brighter colored Washington State bird.

Siskins can be hard to identify for new birders because they are similar in size and shape to the female House Finch. The Siskin has a smaller bill and is a slightly smaller bird, however.

And the Siskins have a concealed beauty that the House Finch does not carry. When Siskins flash their wings or tails you can see the bright yellows hidden beneath.

Siskins enjoy a variety of seeds — such as thistle, millet and black oil sunflower seeds — and will also forage for insects.

Pine Siskins get through cold nights by elevating their metabolic rates. They can also temporarily store seeds — as much as 10% of their body mass — in their crop. The energy in that amount of food could get them through five to six nighttime hours of subzero temperatures.

Since I learned that little fact, I haven’t been as frustrated with the little bird bullies clearing out my feed stores in an hour’s time.

Salmonella

Pine Siskins are susceptible to Salmonella, outbreaks of are caused by bacteria and can be spread through fecal contamination of food and water by sick birds or spread bird-to-bird.

Sick birds may appear thin, fluffed up, have swollen eyelids and may be lethargic.

If you notice sick birds at your feeder, take down all your feeders can clean them thoroughly with a 10% bleach and 90% water solution. Keep your feeders down for a week to give the birds a chance to disperse.

Salmonella can be dangerous to humans, so make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling the feeders — better yet, wear gloves.

Ongoing Fish Fight

I have yet to land my first steelhead, and this week it’s from lack of trying.

The weather, a bum shoulder and the flu kept me off of the river this week, but it didn’t keep my fellow fishing friend home.

Last Friday, while everyone else was suffering under the icy terrors, he and a handful of other intrepid angling soldiers hit the river and nearly all came home with fish. Blast.

They only catch fish in that river every other day — every other day I’m not fishing it.

I hope to break my dry spell today or tomorrow. Keep watch on my blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird, cuz if I come home with a fish, I’ll be shouting it from the roof tops and singing my own praises on Facebook, Twitter and in blog posts.

“Fish on!” my friends. Don’t forget to keep the birds fed, and be careful out there.

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    Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and Outdoors enthusiast who lives in Cinebar.  Visit her photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), follow her on Twitter (ChronKim) or on facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle). Contact her at kim@almostdailynews.com, text or call 269-5017.