Pine Siskin

The Pine Siskin, Carduelis pinus, is a small finch.


Adults are brown on the upperparts and pale on the underparts, with heavy streaking throughout. They have a short forked tail. They have yellow patches in their wings and tail, not always visible; otherwise, it appears to be a very small streaked sparrow.

Distribution and habitat

Their breeding habitat is across Canada, Alaska and the western mountains and northern parts of the United States. The nest is well-hidden on a horizontal branch of a tree, often a conifer.

Migration by this bird is highly variable, probably related to food supply. Large numbers may move south in some years; hardly any in others.



These birds forage in trees, shrubs and weeds. They mainly eat seeds, plant parts and some insects. In winter, they often feed in mixed flocks including American Goldfinches and redpolls.

Small seeds, especially thistle, red alder, birch, and spruce seeds, make up the majority of the Pine Siskin's diet. In summer, they will eat insects, especially aphids, which they feed to the young, but seeds dominate their diet.

Conservation Status

Although considered Washington's most common finch, the Pine Siskin has suffered a significant annual decline in population since 1966, according to the Breeding Bird Survey. Due to the irruptive nature of this species, populations vary widely from year to year, and trends can be difficult to interpret. Parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds can have a significant impact on Pine Siskin productivity, and forest fragmentation has increased their contact with cowbirds. Maintaining large tracts of coniferous forest will help keep this bird common.

Interesting Pine Siskin Facts

• The name Siskin is derived from its sound or chirp. Thus, this bird’s common name is really “pine chirper”
• Pine Siskins are very social birds. They will build nests adjacent to each other, with only a few feet in between them.
• When eating from conifers, the Pine Siskin usually hangs upside down from the tips of the trees.


  • Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • Interesting Pine Siskin Facts donated by

Further reading


  • Dawson, W. R. 1997. Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus). In The Birds of North America, No. 280 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.


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  • Astheimer LB, Buttemer WA & Wingfield JC. (1992). Interactions of corticosterone with feeding, activity and metabolism in passerine birds. Ornis Scandinavica. vol 23, no 3. p. 355-365.
  • Balph DF & Balph MH. (1979). Behavioral Flexibility of Pine Siskins in Mixed Species Foraging Groups. Condor. vol 81, no 2. p. 211-212.
  • Benkman CW & Lindholm AK. (1991). The Advantages and Evolution of a Morphological Novelty. Nature. vol 349, no 6309. p. 519-520.
  • Bennetts RE & Hutto RL. (1985). Attraction of Social Fringillids to Mineral Salts an Experimental Study. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 56, no 2. p. 187-189.
  • Bledsoe AH. (1988). Nuclear DNA Evolution and Phylogeny of the New World Nine-Primaried Oscines. Auk. vol 105, no 3. p. 504-515.
  • Brogden KA & Packer RA. (1979). Comparison of Pasteurella-Multocida Serotyping Systems. American Journal of Veterinary Research. vol 40, no 9. p. 1332-1335.
  • Brown WB. (1986). Late Pine Siskins in Ben Hill County Georgia USA. Oriole. vol 51, no 2-3.
  • Buttemer WA, Astheimer LB & Wingfield JC. (1991). The Effect of Corticosterone on Standard Metabolic Rates of Small Passerine Birds. Journal of Comparative Physiology B Biochemical Systemic & Environmental Physiology. vol 161, no 4. p. 427-432.
  • Cook AG. (1984). Birds of the Desert Region of Uintah County Utah USA. Great Basin Naturalist. vol 44, no 4. p. 584-620.
  • Dawson WR & Marsh RL. (1986). Winter Fattening in the American Goldfinch Carduelis-Tristis and the Possible Role of Temperature in Its Regulation. Physiological Zoology. vol 59, no 3. p. 357-368.
  • Dieni JS & Anderson SH. (1999). Effects of recent burning on breeding bird community structure in aspen forests. Journal of Field Ornithology. vol 70, no 4. p. 491-503.
  • Elder DH. (2001). Forest tent caterpillars and birds. Ontario Birds. vol 19, no 2. p. 87-88.
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  • Hahn TP, Pereyra ME & Sharbaugh SM. (2003). Effects of photoperiod on brain GnRH plasticity and peripheral reproductive physiology in three species of cardueline finches. Society for Neuroscience Abstract Viewer & Itinerary Planner. p. 611.
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  • Hahn TP, Pereyra ME, Sharbaugh SM & Morton ML. (2002). Reproductive responses to long and short days in three high latitude species of cardueline finches. Hormones & Behavior. vol 41, no 4.
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  • Hobson KA & Bayne E. (2000). Breeding bird communities in boreal forest of western Canada: Consequences of "unmixing" the mixedwoods. Condor. vol 102, no 4. p. 759-769.
  • Hobson KA & Schieck J. (1999). Changes in bird communities in boreal mixedwood forest: Harvest and wildfire effects over 30 years. Ecological Applications. vol 9, no 3. p. 849-863.
  • Jennings DT & Crawford HS. (1983). Pine Siskin Preys on Egg Masses of the Spruce Budworm Choristoneura-Fumiferana Lepidoptera Tortricidae. Canadian Entomologist. vol 115, no 4. p. 439-440.
  • Jim S & Keith AH. (2000). Bird communities associated with live residual tree patches within cut blocks and burned habitat in mixedwood boreal forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. vol 30, no 8. p. 1281.
  • Kaufman K. (1993). Notes on goldfinch identification. American Birds. vol 47, no 1. p. 159-162.
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  • Koenig WD. (2001). Synchrony and periodicity of eruptions by boreal birds. Condor. vol 103, no 4. p. 725-735.
  • Koenig WD & Knops JMH. (2001). Seed-crop size and eruptions of North American boreal seed-eating birds. Journal of Animal Ecology. vol 70, no 4. p. 609-620.
  • Kubisz MA. (1989). Burdock as a Hazard to Golden-Crowned Kinglets and Other Small Birds. Ontario Birds. vol 7, no 3. p. 112-114.
  • Lagory KE, Lagory MK, Meyers DM & Herman SG. (1984). Niche Relationships in Wintering Mixed Species Flocks in Western Washington USA. Wilson Bulletin. vol 96, no 1. p. 108-116.
  • Langelier LA & Garton EO. (1986). Management Guidelines for Increasing Populations of Birds That Feed on Western Spruce Budworm. U S Department of Agriculture Handbook. vol 653, p. 1-19.
  • Larson DL & Bock CE. (1986). Eruptions of Some North American Boreal Seed-Eating Birds 1901-1980. Ibis. vol 128, no 1. p. 137-140.
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  • MacDougall-Shackleton SA & Hahn TP. (1999). Photorefractoriness and the evolution of reproductive flexibility in cardueline finches. American Zoologist. vol 39, no 5.
  • MacDougall-Shackleton SA, Katti M & Hahn TP. (2006). Tests of absolute photorefractoriness in four species of cardueline finch that differ in reproductive schedule. Journal of Experimental Biology. vol 209, no 19. p. 3786-3794.
  • Manuwal DA & Huff MH. (1987). Spring and Winter Bird Populations in a Douglas-Fir Forest Sere. Journal of Wildlife Management. vol 51, no 3. p. 586-595.
  • McLaren IA, Morlan J, Smith PW, Gosselin M & Bailey SE. (1989). Eurasian Siskins in North America Distinguishing Females from Green-Morph Pine Siskins. American Birds. vol 43, no 5. p. 1268-1274.
  • Medin DE. (1984). Breeding Birds of an Ancient Bristlecone Pine Pinus-Longavo Stand in East Central Nevada USA. Great Basin Naturalist. vol 44, no 2. p. 272-276.
  • Mills A. (1986). Correlations among Winter Finch Numbers at Ottawa Canada 1958-1983. Ontario Birds. vol 4, no 1. p. 30-32.
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  • Mundinger PC. (1979). Call Learning in the Carduelinae Ethological and Systematic Considerations. Systematic Zoology. vol 28, no 3. p. 270-283.
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  • Oberle MW & Haney JC. (1997). Possible breeding range extensions of northern forest birds in northeast Georgia. Oriole. vol 62, no 3-4. p. 35-44.
  • Pereyra ME, MacDougall-Shackleton SA, Sharbaugh SM, Morton ML, Katti M & Hahn TP. (2001). Relationships between photorefrac-toriness and reproductive flexibility in cardueline finches. American Zoologist. vol 41, no 6.
  • Pereyra ME, Sharbaugh SM & Hahn TP. (2003). Interspecific variation in photo-induced hypothalamic GnRH plasticity in cardueline finches. Integrative & Comparative Biology. vol 43, no 6.
  • Pereyra ME, Sharbaugh SM & Hahn TP. (2005). Interspecific variation in photo-induced GnRH plasticity among nomadic cardueline finches. Brain Behavior & Evolution. vol 66, no 1. p. 35-49.
  • Popp JW. (1988). Scanning Behavior of Finches in Mixed-Species Groups. Condor. vol 90, no 2. p. 510-512.
  • Popp JW. (1989). Use of Agonistic Displays by Purple Finches During Interspecific Encounters. Bird Behavior. vol 8, no 1. p. 48-50.
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  • Scott VE & Crouch GL. (1987). Response of Breeding Birds to Commercial Clearcutting of Aspen in Southwestern Colorado USA. U S Forest Service Research Note RM. vol 475, p. 1-5.
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  • Zinkl JG, Henny CJ, Lenhart DJ & Roberts RB. (1980). Inhibition of Brain Cholin Esterase Activity in Forest Birds and Squirrels Exposed to Aerially Applied Acephate. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination & Toxicology. vol 24, no 5. p. 676-683.

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