pine siskins  pattie freeman.JPG

Four of the pine siskin are drawn to a feeder in the Santa Fe area. 

What’s with all the pine siskin birds lately? If you’re seeing huge numbers of these streaked finches at your thistle feeder, you’re not alone. Our region is experiencing what’s called an irruption of the pine siskin.

Although, we often see some the pine siskin year-round in our area, lately numbers have spiked. The yearly Winter Finch Irruption Forecast, compiled by North American birding experts, predicts a large irruption of the pine siskin in the West as weather cools.

If summer conditions in northern North America’s boreal forests aren’t ideal, groups of birds will irrupt during the winter months in search of fruits, nuts, seeds and cones. Irruption patterns vary, but many times it can involve large groups of birds flying west and/or south across North America into regions they aren’t typically found.

The increase in numbers of the pine siskin in our area is one such irruption. They are in search of food, and it’s exciting to see so many. The pine siskin is a heavily streaked bird with yellow wing bars and yellow at the base of the tail. It had a thin, pointy bill. You’ll see them most often crowding around a nyjer/thistle feeder. The siskin, like other finches, love the high protein and fat that nyjer provides.

Since the pine siskin travels, lives and eats in such crowds, they are more vulnerable to passing germs and disease to one another. If you see a dead siskin, or a siskin that appears ill, it is recommended to take feeders down and clean them with bleach, and rake away seeds and droppings beneath the feeders. If you see several sick birds, it’s also a good idea to pause feeding for a week or so to encourage the flock to disperse a bit. Just like with people, overcrowding can propel the spread of sickness.

The pine siskin isn’t the only irruptive species of bird in New Mexico. The evening grosbeak is an irruptive species and its numbers are also on the rise this fall. Decades ago, the evening grosbeaks would irrupt across North America regularly, but its population has declined over 90 percent. This year was a successful nesting season for the evening grosbeak due to a resurgence of the spruce budworm, which these birds feed their young.

The evening grosbeak is medium sized, stocky bird with a yellowish head, black and white wings and tail, and yellow rump and belly. One of the largest finches, the evening grosbeaks has an unusually large, thick bill for cracking seeds (its major food source). The evening grosbeaks can break open seeds that require up to 125 pounds of pressure to crush. So, sunflower seeds are not problem at feeders.

Look for the grosbeak in small flocks at your sunflower feeder.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and has been writing the For the Birds column for The New Mexican for over 11 years.

(3) comments

Jim Klukkert

As one not uneducated, I am proud to subscribe to a daily that confounded me into only a contractual understanding of the most important word in this piece: ' irruption.'

For those as dense as I,

irruption:

ecology : a sudden sharp increase in the relative numbers of a natural population usually associated with favorable alteration of the environment

The owl's appearance came during an irruption, a huge southward migration of snowy owls from their arctic territories that, this year, followed a successful breeding period.

— Scott Carroll

Naila Erwin

We live in the ponderosa forest area of north central Arizona at 6,790 feet elevation. We are south and east of Flagstaff on the Mogollon Plateau. This very afternoon I commented on the unusually large number of Pine Siskins that have been showing up for the past week at the thistle seed feeder. They are peacefully sharing the bounty with the usual number of Gray-headed and Oregon Juncos, Lesser Goldfinches, and Pygmy Nuthatches. The large number of Pine Siskins is unusual enough here so that some people are misidentifying them as Song Sparrows.

Raquel Casillas

I am thrilled that you are seeing these birds as well! We are experiencing the same type of numerous populations. We are at 6500 feet just south of Santa Fe.

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