One of twenty species in the Spinus genus, Eurasian Siskins are small widespread finches with predominantly yellow/green plumage. Not uncommon in gardens in the winter, birdwatchers are most likely to encounter these agile little birds in coniferous forests and plantations.
Siskins are small, stocky finches with slim, sharply pointed conical bills and forked tails. Both sexes have yellowish upperparts with whitish underparts and streaks on their flanks and bellies. They are naturally tame, so getting a good view of these active birds is fairly easy.
Male Siskins are particularly colourful little birds with yellow markings on their tail, wings, rump, and face that stand out boldly both in flight and when perched. They have a greenish upper back and a black cap, and their wings are mostly black with a bold yellow streak running along the centre.
Females are duller than males with a hint of yellowish green on the upperparts and no black cap. Their underparts and back are heavily streaked. They are slightly smaller than males, although plumage differences are a much better way to distinguish them. Juveniles are similar to females but more heavily streaked and generally duller.
Siskin pair, Female (right) and Male (left)
Siskins are small, stout-bodied songbirds, slightly smaller than the Goldfinch.
Most adult Siskins have a body length of 11 to 12 centimetres.
These stocky little birds weigh 11 to 18 grams.
Adult wingspans measure 20 to 23 centimetres.
Female Siskin standing on top of a tree stump
Siskins are vocal birds that call loudly in flight, producing clear, two-noted calls that rise or fall in pitch. The male’s song is a complex mix of twittering with the odd jarring note thrown in. They sing in flight or from a prominent perch so that their voice will carry.
Siskin twittering from a perch
Siskins are primarily seed-eaters, although they will take some fruit and insects. These birds usually feed on the seeds of conifers and deciduous trees, although they may visit garden bird feeders in the winter.
They have rather delicate bills and prefer finer foods like niger seeds at bird feeders. However, they will also accept sunflower hearts and shelled peanuts.
Like many seed-eating birds, Siskin parents begin by feeding their chicks small insects. They will wean the young birds onto their adult diet (conifer seeds) as they mature.
Female Siskin feeding on fruit from an ornamental apple tree
Siskins are primarily birds of coniferous (pine, spruce, etc.) forests, and they have adapted well to managed plantations. They also visit mixed woodlands and gardens, especially in the winter when natural food sources are scarce.
Siskins are widespread in Europe and Asia, occurring in two widely separated regions. The western population lives in much of Europe and Western Asia, reaching North Africa in the south. They also range across most of the United Kingdom, including England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
The eastern population occurs mostly in Russia, China, Japan, and North and South Korea. Even with such a wide gap between their ranges in the east and west, Eurasian Siskins have not been split into separate subspecies.
Siskins are mostly tree dwellers. They are agile birds that forage actively in the upper branches, and although they may feed among lower vegetation and descend to drink, they rarely forage on the ground.
Siskins are common birds in the United Kingdom, especially in years when poor food crops see large numbers visit from abroad. Their numbers have increased, and their range has expanded locally, probably due to the establishment of conifer plantations. According to Birdlife International, their global population could number well over 49 million individuals.
Siskins occur practically throughout the United Kingdom but are most common in conifer forests in the north and west. While they may feed in herbs and weeds, it’s best to look and listen for these birds up high among the branches of Alders, Spruces, and Pines.
Siskin perching in the trees in forest habitat
Siskins have a life expectancy of about two years, although they can survive for over 13 years in captivity.
Siskins find themselves rather low on the food chain and are vulnerable to a variety of predators. Domestic cats and Sparrowhawks probably feed on adults while their young and eggs are eaten by squirrels.
Siskins are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the United Kingdom.
Siskins are a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List, although their global population is thought to be decreasing. They have a green conservation status in the United Kingdom.
Female Siskin drinking from a watering hole
Siskins are breeding residents in suitable habitats across the United Kingdom. They build their nests high above the ground in trees, typically in a conifer. Pairs might nest alone or in the company of several others, and their nest is a neat cup of plant material, spider webs, and animal hair.
Siskins nest in the spring and summer from March until August. They time their breeding season to coincide with good food availability, and in most years, they can raise a second brood. Siskin eggs hatch after just under a fortnight, and the helpless young chicks remain in the nest for a further two weeks.
Siskins lay one or two clutches per year. Each clutch consists of three to five speckled blue eggs, each measuring about 16 millimetres long and 12 millimetres wide.
Do Siskins mate for life?
Siskins are monogamous in the breeding season, although they probably choose a new mate each year.
Siskin in full breeding plumage
Siskins are highly social little birds, particularly in the non-breeding season when hundreds may gather, often in mixed-species flocks. They are not particularly territorial, often nesting in loose groups, although they do have a dominance structure within the group.
Siskins during the winter searching for food
Siskins are both resident and migratory birds. They can be seen throughout the year in the United Kingdom, and numbers increase in the winter when birds arrive from mainland Europe. Their movements can be irregular, governed by food availability.
The Siskin is native to the United Kingdom.
Eurasian Siskin, European Siskin, Common Siskin
11cm to 12cm
20cm to 23cm
11g to 18g
A rare breeding bird in the UK, twite numbers have dropped dramatically in northern England since 1990, with only a handful of pairs remaining. Efforts are ongoing to revive the UK breeding population, with further pairs nesting in Wales and across Scotland, which is joined by migrants from northern Europe during winter months.
Serins are the smallest European member of the finch family. Rare reports exist of breeding serins in isolated parts of the UK, and small numbers might be seen during migration passage each year, although sightings are not guaranteed.
Unique to the Caledonian pine forests of the Scottish Highlands, the Scottish crossbill is the UK mainland’s only endemic bird species that is not found anywhere else in the world. Visually, it’s relatively hard to distinguish Scottish crossbills from the two other crossbill species (common crossbill and parrot crossbill) found in the UK.
A rare breeding bird in Britain, found mainly in pine forests in the Scottish Highlands, the parrot crossbill is both the rarest and the largest of the three crossbill species found in the UK. Similar in plumage to the red crossbill and common crossbill, the key identifying features of the parrot crossbill lie in the shape of its head shape, its bill structure and the pitch of its song.
A seed-eating finch, widespread throughout much of the UK, linnets are a colourful presence on heathlands and scrublands, particularly in coastal areas or in hedgerows on agricultural land, where they feed on weed seeds, including dandelion and dock, around the edges of cultivated fields.
A tiny finch, only marginally larger than a blue tit, the lesser redpoll is an acrobatic streaky seed-eater, that can be seen all year round throughout Ireland, in much of Wales, northern England and parts of northern and central Scotland.
Britains largest finch, the hawfinch is unmistakable due not only to its size and light chestnut colouring, but mainly because of its giant, almost cartoon-like bill. They are fairly secretive birds, and with a maximum 1,000 breeding pairs in the UK, sightings would certainly count as memorable.
Identified by its distinctive yellow wing patches and wheezing call, the Greenfinch is a common garden bird throughout the United Kingdom.
The European goldfinch is common across southern England, and can frequently be seen feeding on the seeds of thistles, teasels and other scrubland vegetation.Goldfinches are enjoying a population boom, with garden visits reported to be up 70 percent on numbers seen 20 years ago.
The common rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus) is resident in forest and woodland habitats across northern Europe and Asia, and, as its name suggests, has a plumage marked with various shades of red and pink.
This medium sized finch is a specialised feeder with a chunky downwards curving beak which is crossed at its end giving rise to its descriptive name.
One of the smaller members of the finch family, the common redpoll breeds in northern latitudes and despite their tiny, fragile body size, can survive in bleak Arctic tundra landscapes.
One of the most common birds to visit back gardens in the UK – and also one of the most easy to identify – the chaffinch is a colourful and tuneful finch, known for its cheery, repetitive trilled song. They live in a wide range of habitats, and with more than 5 million breeding pairs, it shouldn’t be too difficult to tick one off your bird spotting list if you know where to look.
The Bullfinch is an unobtrusive but beautiful woodland bird, and an occasional garden visitor.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.