Pine Siskin?

Possibly a Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)

This little tweeter baffles me. It’s about the size of a small sparrow and has sparrow-ish coloring, but the beak isn’t sparrow and it isn’t your typical blunt finch beak, either. I haven’t photographed it before. According to Merlin, the online bird app, this is a Pine Siskin. But Merlin is not always right. If it is a PISI, it wouldn’t be the first here. According to e-Bird, a Pine Siskin was last seen in November a year ago, by Daniel Traub. Unfortunately, Daniel — like most e-Bird contributors — didn’t provide a photo for comparison. Some of the photos in the standard sources, see below, might match this bird. So, I’m putting my two cents on Spinus pinus. However, some birders more expert than I say this is a Song Sparrow. I’m not entirely convinced. The thin pointy beak with the lower shorter than the upper doesn’t look like a sparrow to me, and this bird doesn’t have the malar mustache of our local Song Sparrows … but I am definitely not an expert. (There are quite a few Song Sparrow photos and videos on this website for comparison. ) So I’ve pulled “Pine Siskin” from the Bird List. Maybe later someone will see the genuine article.

If it is a Pine Siskin, here’s some interesting stuff about it. According to the Cornell bird lab, these birds have irregular residence and migration patterns. Although they’re in the finch family, they don’t behave like any close relative. They range all over the continent and it’s hard to predict in any year where they’ll be spending the winter. This has earned them the label “irruptive.” It helps that they have amazing resilience to extreme cold weather.

Pine Siskins get through cold nights by ramping up their metabolic rates—typically 40% higher than a “normal” songbird of their size. When temperatures plunge as low as –70°C (–94°F), they can accelerate that rate up to five times normal for several hours. They also put on half again as much winter fat as their Common Redpoll and American Goldfinch relatives.

Pine Siskins protect their eggs from cold damage, too. The nest is highly insulated, and the female remains on the nest continuously, fed by the male throughout brooding.

Pine Siskins can temporarily store seeds totaling as much as 10% of their body mass in a part of their esophagus called the crop. The energy in that amount of food could get them through 5–6 nighttime hours of subzero temperatures.

Reading this information, I’m again amazed by the superpowers that are packed into some of these tiny feathered packages. If for no other reason than to learn from them, we need to respect and protect these little sisters and brothers. They can do so much that is beyond us.

The standard sources: Cornell Wikipedia Audubon

One thought on “Pine Siskin?

  • October 26, 2020 at 12:03 am

    Looks like a Song Sparrow.

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