The adult male is a striking looking bird with a yellow green back with dark streaks, yellowish breast and white streaked underside. It has yellow and black striped wings and a short forked black tail with yellow patches. The head and cheeks are yellow with a black cap (forehead) and chin. The female is similar to the male although much paler/duller in colour with a greyish head without the black cap or chin, nor is there any yellow on the breast. Juvenile birds are even duller and greyer in colour than the female. Siskins have a narrow bill ideally suited for extracting seeds from pine cones, a staple of their diet.
Siskins utter an extended squeaky ‘tilu’ sound where the ‘ti’ is a high note and the ‘lu’ sound lower in pitch. They can often be heard foraging for seeds high up in the trees issuing fast trills and twittering sounds to each other.
Siskin Adult Song
Shaun Micklewright, XC625024. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/625024.
Siskin Close Up
The siskin is predominantly a seed eater and is particularly adept at removing seeds from cones of the pine, spruce, birch and alder trees. It rarely feeds on the ground but will occasionally feed its young with small insects. Over the past decades it has become a more common visitor to domestic gardens where it feeds on peanuts and sunflower hearts and especially likes niger seeds.
Pine forests and large woodland areas of Scotland and Wales are favoured habitats for siskins, particularly in the breeding season although they are relatively common throughout the UK. The best places to observe them outside of the breeding season is often in the back garden providing you have attracted them previously with a full nut feeder! Although the siskin is a UK resident, during the winter many more siskins arrive on our shores from the colder climes of northern Europe and mainly occupy the regions of eastern England and the midlands, returning northwards in the spring.
Male siskins will be far easier to spot than their mates or offspring due to their vibrant yellow and black plumage. Often when feeding, these little birds become increasingly acrobatic in the moves they make hanging upside down to extract seeds from trees or garden bird feeders. Don’t confuse them with the Greenfinch which is a much larger bird and has less streaks on its underside and no black cap. During the late autumn and winter months they are often seen in flocks in company with Lesser Redpolls with whom they also feed in the tree tops.
Breeding takes place from mid March to July. The female siskin builds a small cup shaped nest out of twigs lined with feathers, lichen and other plant material high up in a tree most commonly located in managed forests in Scotland and Wales. She will lay up to two clutches each season of between 2 to 6 eggs. Only the female will incubate the eggs although both parents will feed the young.
Siskins have a lifespan of between 2 to 3 years
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