The Siskin has become much more familiar as a garden bird over the last 40 years or so, as it’s extended its UK breeding range and taken readily to the increase in popularity of feeding wild birds in our gardens. The male Siskin is a striking little finch, with its yellow-green streaked body, black crown and bib, and yellow patches on its wings and tail which are obvious when the bird is viewed in flight. The female bird is drabber in colour and lacks the black crown and bib, but shares a similar overall plumage pattern to the male, and both sexes have a distinct forked tail. In the garden their favourite foods are niger seed, sunflower hearts and peanuts in a mesh feeder.
Siskin diet and food
Siskins are essentially seed eaters, and specialise in extracting seeds from the cones of spruce, pine, birch and alder. This preference explains the small size and pointed shape of their bill relative to most other finches. Young birds are also fed insects. At garden feeding stations, Siskins are especially attracted to niger seed – and will often feed alongside Goldfinches on a special niger seed feeder – plus sunflower hearts (in a tube feeder or table or ground table) and peanuts in a mesh feeder.
Siskin nesting and breeding habits
The nest is usually in a conifer, often quite high up, and is built by the female bird. It is a small cup made up of fine twigs, grass, moss and lichen, with a lining of hair or wool and fine plant materials. (As with many species of songbird, exact mix of materials will depend on what’s locally available.) The female incubates alone, with their usually being two broods of four to five eggs. Both sexes feed the young.
Behaviour traits of Siskins
Research by the BTO shows that the Siskin’s feeding behaviour and the extent to which they visit gardens, is partly driven by the seed stock of one of its favourite trees – the sitka spruce. So in years when the crop of cones for sitka spruce is poor, Siskins come into gardens on a much great level. And on a local and micro scale, on wet days when seed cones remain closed there are a greater number of Siskins visiting gardens, and on dry days when the cones are open and therefore seeds can be more easily extracted, less birds will come to gardens. Also of interest is that when Siskins first started to come into gardens in the 1960s, it was largely to feed on, what was then, the popular red hanging nets of peanuts. It’s believed that Siskins took these to be some sort of pine/spruce cone, and so their behaviour was changed in a relatively short space of time as they quickly came to recognise the red nets as an easy source of food.
Siskin history and population trends
The long term population trend for the Siskin in the UK has been one of increase since about the 1950s when it started to expand its range, with this being largely driven by the corresponding increase in conifer plantations and the level at which they were maturing. In addition, it’s likely that the species’ habit of using garden feeders, and especially in the late winter months, has improved survival rates.