Needs as needs must

Two species of bird are said to use niger seed feeders, but up until this winter I’d only ever seen one of them on mine, and that’s the goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis, Dansk: stillits). The other species, that I had never seen was the siskin (Carduelis spinus, Dansk:  grønsisken).

A siskin refuelling on niger seed

Not only had they not appeared on the feeders but I hadn’t seen one for years before this winter. My friend in the village said that he had seen one on his feeders and it was reported that the dreadful weather last year had caused such a shortage of wild seed, the siskins natural food source, that they were showing up in gardens in unusual numbers. Needs as needs must when hunger prevails.

The normal diet of the siskin consists of seeds from spruce, pine, alder or birch trees and they will occasionally feed on invertebrates too. In the photograph above it’s easy to see the long and pointed but powerful beak it would need to extract the seeds from pine cones.

The conservation status of the siskin according to the British Trust for Ornithology is green and they don’t appear to be in any danger, which is unusual in itself these days, so it’s surprising I haven’t seen one for so long. It’s a resident breeder here in the UK and a passage and winter visitor, flying in from further north in Europe.

They are particularly handsome birds and although it’s a pleasure to see them I hope the need to use garden feeders doesn’t go on from year to year or their green conservation status may not last.

28 responses to “Needs as needs must

  1. Pingback: Armchair twitching | The Naturephile

  2. I get siskins on my seed feeders. Not in winter, but in spring (april-may). They are very nice.

    • Hello Bente, they are winter visitors here so I guess yours move south to escape the worst of the winter. Is it unusual for them to use feeders in Norway? They only do it here when they find themselves in extremis.

  3. We had a few siskins but not that often. I might try the red net of peanuts trick next year! But the woodpecker was with us everyday. I have stopped feeding now, do you think that is ok?

    • I used to stop feeding after the winter but in recent years I’ve carried on all the way through the year. I think it’s a good idea to feed through the breeding season at least though, my feeders are being rapidly depleted at the moment by parents and fledglings so I’d carry on into the summer… assuming we get one!

      I think I’ll try the red bag too.

  4. We had siskins through for the first time ever this year, earlier in the month and they too landed on the niger feeder. I live in the city in North Bristol so it really was a surprise visit.

    • Hello Joanna, many thanks for your comment. It’s been really interesting to hear all the comments from people echoing the same thing. Myself and my friend here in Histon have both been visited by siskins, my folks in Northampton have, and over in your neck of the woods in Bristol they’ve also been struggling. So it does appear that it’s a nationwide phenomenon. Thanks for letting me know.

  5. Your siskins are much brighter in color than the pine siskins (Spinus pinus) we have here but seem to have many of the same traits. One of my favorite birds!

  6. Thems the breaks when you are a little bird and your natural habitat is being eaten away by development :(. At least he found something tasty in your garden 🙂

    • Your dead right. More about development in a subsequent post, but it seems to be the climate change which is really doing the damage. The weather here seems to be completely random here these days, so when the Jetstream stays too far south in the summer it can get wintry for weeks or months on end. It’s not good.

      • We are getting the exact opposite…Our summers are stretching on into infinity and we have very little rain… I think a long winter with rain is preferable to very few rain events but then I don’t have to suffer through a long winter. By the end of summer and the very first autumnal rains (well into April) Steve had to stop me racing out and dancing around like crazy in front of the bewildered neighbours…I was so happy to see the rains :). We kept water up for the birds over summer and it was amazing how many birds we saw that were lured by a regular and reliable source of fresh clean water.

      • In a parched summer water is as important as food for the small birds that feed in gardens.

        It sounds like opposite ends of the globe are being affected by climate change in opposite ways. I wonder where it will be in 20-30 years time? Things could look very different.

      • I dare say we will all have hard winters and summers and there won’t be spring and autumn any more. I must admit, living in Western Australia that’s what it was like. We didn’t get much of the intermediary seasons and when I moved here and got 4 distinct seasons it was quite an eye opener and quite lovely. We didn’t have deciduous trees much in W.A. but they are all over the place here and I am like a kid in a sweet shop and run around with the dog in the fallen leaves. I am sure the natives think I am quite mad ;).

      • Hello Fran, I do hope you’re wrong. I can’t countenance the notion of no spring or autumn. But big changes are indeed afoot. The next few decades will show us the nature and extent, but suffice to say it’s looking ugly from where I am!

        But in the mean time enjoy those autumn leaves. I do 🙂

      • You can’t truly appreciate autumn leaves will you have a small child or a dog. Earl, our almost 3 year old American Staffordshire Terrier hurls himself upside down into the leaves and tunnel mines his way through them upside down…nothing like it for filling your heart with the sheer joy of being alive 🙂

      • Hear, hear. I’ll drink to that!

      • I’ll drink to anything but that is another story! 😉

  7. I also noticed some siskins in the garden from Feb this year on sunflower kernels. I noticed them as I came out of the house in the morning so snapped them with my smartphone (hence not great quality). They seemed very reluctant to fly away and allowed me to get quite close.


    • Hello Richard, mine were less accommodating, I had to sneak up on them carefully, maybe they were wary because of the local felines. But it’s interesting that thay appeared in your garden in February, I didn’t see any here until that weekend of snow we had at the end of March. And then they disappeared as soon as the snow went.

  8. Lovely post Finn, I used a much less sophisticated way of attracting Siskins to my garden in South Wales years ago- I read somewhere that they are attracted to the garish red nets filled with peanuts, so, suspecting they may be in the area I tried one and lo and behold they appeared within a day! Method worked for years. Did the same thing with the cheapo feeders in Spain (where they don’t feed wild birds like here) after I saw a migrant one locally and much to my amazement and delight it worked there too- they must somehow see them as big fir cones or something. Once they start coming they more or less move in, have you noticed they stay for ages seemingly oblivious to other comers?

    • Hello Theresa, that’s a great discovery. I haven’t seen one of those bags for years but next time I do I’m going to buy one for next winter. Mine didn’t stay for ages, just a few days, which I have mixed feelings about. It was lovely to see them but I hope their departure means they could find proper food out in the countryside.

  9. I’m delighted to hear that you’ve had siskins enjoying your niger seed. We’ve had more siskins this year than I’ve ever been aware of before, they’ve become regular feeders in the garden. I like the shot showing the beak, you can just imagine that reaching into a pine cone.

    • The first ones ever!

      I’m pleased you noticed the beak as that’s what I was trying to highlight with that picture. And you’re dead right, you can just see the little guy prising pine kernels out the cones with it.

  10. Gorgeous pictures Finn. I hadn’t realised that was what siskins looked like.
    They’re very similar to the little birds I see here, which fly in small flocks, and are called thistle-heads. But they have bright red marking on their heads.

    • Hello Valerie, I was curious about your thistle-heads so I did a bit of research on NZ birds and it appears that they are Carduelis carduelis, our European goldfinch. They’re imports which I guess came across a long time ago with European immigrants. There’s a picture of one here, let me know if it’s the same as yours.

      • Hello Finn, thank you for your reply, and doing sleuth work on my behalf!!!
        I checked up on your gold finches in the pic, and mine are much yellower – very like the siskins you showed in your last post, but with the red patch on their head.and also some black and white markings. I’m also puzzled by a yellowy greeny bird about the size of a thrush….which I had supposed to be a gold finch from the colour…but now am completely bluffed..

      • Hello Valerie, this is very intriguing. Are your birds much more yellow when they’re in flight? Ours have large bright flashes of golden yellow when they fly, hence the name, but the yellow parts are very small when the wings are folded. I’d love to see a picture of your thistle-heads and work out what species they are.

        As part of my reading I found that there were ‘acclimatisation societies’ in NZ so the Europeans could get to feel more at home, and they released not only goldfinches but greenfinch, chaffinch and redpoll too!

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