Siskin Madness

All the snow has made for great birding here the last few days in Wheatley. I now have a male Eastern Towhee as a regular, plus an adult Red-shouldered Hawk, and at least two Cooper's Hawks. The finches are the real highlight though with small flocks of White-winged Crossbills landing in the yard the last couple of days, plus a few redpolls, and today one male Purple Finch at the feeders. The most abundant bird by far though has to be Pine Siskin. There were ZERO siskins here on January 7th, but today I counted an incredible 110 individuals at once.

I didnt even need to use the blind to photograph them they were so tame. On two occasions siskins even bumped into me as they flushed from the ground. They were landing all around me and the handheld 100-400 lens was perfect. On many occasions they were more than full frame at 400 mm so I had to back off to around 300 mm to get better framing. Here is my best portrait from the shoot.

Many of the siskins would feed and then fly to an area to 'drink' snow. I'm presuming this aids in the movement and digestion of seeds in their crop. Here is an image of one of the siskins drinking snow.

I was impressed with how incredibly agressive these little finches are. Space on the two tube feeders was at a premium and they frequently would fan their tails and wings and show off the bold yellow bases to tail and wing feathers. The threat displays were impressive. Often this wasnt enough and birds were constantly being displaced and knocked off the tube by incoming competitors. Here is an image of the display.

Speaking of the yellow flashes, Pine Siskins show remarkable variation in the intensity and extent of yellow in their plumage (see Sibley for an illustration of the yellow variant). Below is a pic of one several individuals in this group that were intensely yellow.

Small flocks of Common Redpolls have also graced the feeder but not with the same numbers or predictability as the siskins. Still I managed to get a few images of this individual. I hope to get a few more tomorrow before heading to Ecuador for a month. Please watch this blog for updates throughout the trip!

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