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 Siskin - Fact File
Male siskin
Male (female shown in body of article)
Carduelis spinus
Fairly widespread resident and winter visitor. Has increased in the last thirty years or so due to conifer plantations.
Breeds in conifers. In winter found in birches and alders, banks of streams and will visit gardens for peanuts.

Small sharp billed finch with yellow, green and black colouring. Male is brighter with black forehead and bib.

12 cm (4.75")


After a four-winter absence delightful siskins, smallest of finches, returned to our garden in 1994. At first only single advance guards appeared, but later up to half a dozen were regularly on show.

Several correspondents in and around Norwich have been fortunate too. The attraction: containers of shelled peanuts.

Among the many ornithological features observed along the Norfolk coast during the autumn of 1993 was a heavy and prolonged migration of siskins. This movement commenced in mid-September and continued throughout October. Thousands were observed on more than one occasion.

As I write pairs of siskins are pirouetting endlessly on the nut containers as they busily attack the abundant food supply. At other times 'our' siskins restlessly flit among the topmost sprays of tall cypresses. From such vantage points the males, continually twittering, perform a series of circling display flights on slowly beating wings.

I watched a male raising head-feathers to display the glossy black cap before drooping wings to reveal a bright yellow rump and wing-bars. Siskins are highly agile when feeding and adept at using their feet to bring hanging food into reach. They regularly secure alder catkins to pick out the seeds. These habits have in the past made them popular as cage-birds.

Female siskin,
Female siskin
Arthur Patterson, chronicler of the Yarmouth poachers and bird-catchers, records an instance when 140 siskins were netted on Yarmouth Denes in a single morning. The same trapper also made history when he netted the country's very first citril finch. This vagrant from high-level coniferous forest and alpine meadows remains on display in Booth's Museum in Brighton.But where do these siskins come from? The conifer forests of the far north. The breeding range extends from just below the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia and Russia southwards to the mountains of Central and Eastern Europe.

In this country breeding stronghold was long restricted to the old pine forests of north-east Scotland. However, the birds have steadily spread southward and nesting has now been recorded in many English counties.

Like bramblings, siskins tend to winter in widely different areas in succeeding years. One winter's birds caught and ringed here were retrapped in later winters in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Austria. To survive they need to seek different localities each year wherever seed crops are good.

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.