Siskin: the bird profiles

Hannah
Hannah
Hannah
Hannah

I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

Favourite fruit: kiwi, apple and redcurrant
Favourite vegetables: tomatoes and green beans

Could you tell the difference between a siskin, greenfinch and serin? And what do siskin chicks look like? Here’s everything you should know about the siskin.

A siskin perches
The siskin is a colourful garden visitor [Photo: Jesus Giraldo Gutierrez/ Shutterstock.com]

The siskin (Carduelis spinus) is a rare garden visitor. A colourful songbird, siskins mainly inhabit coniferous forests and are widespread in Europe. Siskins are particularly fond of alder seeds, which they selectively peck from the alder cones with their narrow, pointed beaks. Read on to find out more about this wonderful songbird.

Siskin: key facts

SizeAbout 12cm
Weight12-16g
Breeding seasonApril-June
LifespanApproximately 5 years
HabitatConiferous forests, parks and gardens with conifers
Food preferencesTree seeds, nuts and insects
ThreatsDecline in natural habitat and food supply

How to recognise the siskin

Siskins are small, delicate songbirds, with olive-green backs. Their wings and tails are dark and banded yellow, and their white bellies are streaked with strong black lines. In flight, you should be able to spot a siskin’s bright, yellow rump.

A siskin perches on a branch
Siskins are easy to recognise [Photo: Romuald Cisakowski/ Shutterstock.com]

How to tell the difference between a siskin and a greenfinch

You may mistake a siskin for a greenfinch. Although they share some common colours, siskins are more vibrant, smaller and their beaks much weaker. What is more, a siskin’s wings and tail are almost black, and banded yellow, where a greenfinch’s are grey-green.

A greenfinch perches
In comparison, greenfinches are less dark [Photo: hfuchs/ Shutterstock.com]

How to tell the difference between a siskin and a serin

You are even more likely to mistake a siskin for a serin. Despite their dark plumage, yellow rump and dotted belly, you can tell a serin apart by its yellow forehead, dark, olive cheek patches and the narrow, yellow stripes on its wings.

A serin perches on a branch
In comparison, serins have a yellow forehead and dark cheeks [Photo: Mark Caunt/ Shutterstock.com]

How to tell the difference between male and female siskins

As is often the case, the male siskin is more flamboyant than the female. Males have bright, yellow breasts (matching the side of their head), black foreheads, and black patches on the throat. Females, meanwhile, have grey-green heads, and slightly yellow breasts that fade into a white belly.

A male siskin in flight before a female
Female siskins (right) are much plainer than their mates [Photo: Marcin Perkowski/ Shutterstock.com]

How to recognise a siskin egg

Female siskins lay between 2 and 6 eggs per clutch, each around 1.6cm long. Some clutches are white, others grey and others still are tinged blue. Regardless of their colour, however, the eggs will be covered in small, pale brown spots.

How to recognise a young siskin

Young siskins are quite inconspicuous. Their plumage is similar to a female’s, but even plainer. Their backs are grey-brown, their undersides plain white, and they are streaked all over with fine, dark stripes; any green and yellow highlights will take some time to develop. You should be able to identify the chicks, however, from their blackened wings and tails. It is the wings and tails that distinguish a young siskin from a young greenfinch.

A young siskin sits on a branch
Young siskins are rather inconspicuous [Photo: Mircea Costina/ Shutterstock.com]

What is the perfect habitat for siskins?

Siskins look for coniferous and mixed forests. They are a widespread species, also at high altitudes, but their densities are correlated with the number of conifers; parks and gardens are fine, as long as there are enough conifers!

Where do siskins build their nests?

Siskins build their nests in tall conifers, especially bushy spruces. The nests are hidden in the high branches and built from twigs, grasses and moss. Eggs are cushioned with soft down.

A siskin perches on a spruce branch
Siskins tend to nest in conifers [Photo: Vitaly Ilyasov/ Shutterstock.com]

When is breeding season for siskins?

A siskin normally finds its partner in the winter months – long before breeding season, which starts in April, when the first eggs are laid. The eggs are incubated for about 13 days, after which the hatchlings are fed in the nest for a further 15 days. Finally, the young siskins leave the nest, remaining close to and dependent on their parents for a few more weeks. Siskins tend to breed in small colonies of up to 6 pairs, and often start a second brood in June.

Where do siskins spend winter?

Siskins spend the winter months in the UK. Breeding colonies join forces to form larger flocks, which then move as one across the fields in search of food. Often, these siskin groups are joined by other winter birds, such as goldfinches. Head out for a winter walk and you may just spot these enormous flocks flying around.

Two siskins fight in snow
Siskins stick together over winter [Photo: Victor Tyakht/ Shutterstock.com]

What does a siskin’s song sound like?

The song of the siskin consists of clear whistling notes that are interspersed with trills and the occasional squeak. They are also known to imitate other birds, making them sometimes difficult to identify. Siskins have several other calls that are as clear and high-pitched as their whistling.

Help the siskin!

Siskins can be a rarity. So it is quite a treat if you spot one in your back garden! Read on to find out how you can attract siskins to your garden and support their search for food.

What do siskins eat?

Siskins feed mainly on tree seeds, such as birch and alder. But they are partial to other seed-bearing plants such as thistles, docks and meadowsweet. During breeding season, the songbird also eats insects, picked from trees and plants. This protein-rich diet is particularly important for rearing young birds.

A siskin uses a bird feeder
Siskins do use bird feeders [Photo: Stephan Morris/ Shutterstock.com]

Siskins also use birdfeeders, especially in winter, when they pick the finer seeds from the mix. And fat dumplings are much appreciated.

Which birdhouses are suitable for siskins?

Traditional birdhouses, as used by blue tits and starlings, are unsuitable for siskins. The songbird builds its nest free-standing in trees. So if you are lucky enough to find a siskin in and amongst your garden conifers, be sure to allow them to grow; siskins build their nests in dense trees for protection.

How can I support siskins even more?

A bird feeder is not the only way to support the siskin in its search for food. Seed-bearing perennials and wild herbs like thistle and meadowsweet are perfect natural sources of energy for the siskin. And during breeding season, an insect-friendly garden will provide that much-needed protein for young siskins.

On hot summer days, a bird bath will do wonders. Be it a pond, stream or bowl of water, siskins and many other garden visitors will appreciate the addition. However, be sure to clean it out regularly. When temperatures are high, a bird bath can become a breeding ground for disease. Ideally, in summer, they should be cleaned daily.

A siskin bathes at a waterhole
In summer, siskins will appreciate a bird bath [Photo: manfredxy/ Shutterstock.com]

Read our profile to find out more about the coal tit, another garden visitor who spends winter in the UK, roaming coniferous trees.

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