Sunday, March 24, 2013

Karen and the Pine Siskins

Looking at our deck these days, you could imagine you were looking at a bunch of whirligig beetles in the shadow of a pier in a Wisconsin lake.  Or perhaps a “herd “of sand fleas when you overturn a log on a beach.  Careful Don, you’re about to digress from Pine Siskins to whirligig beetles or sand fleas and you don’t know anything about them.  For that matter you don’t know much about Pine Siskins, except they are not invertebrates.  That, and, we are currently in the middle of an irruption of these tiny birds ranking somewhere between a hummingbird and sparrow in size.  They’re a species of finch and they love Karen’s sunflower seeds.


                            The brightest color on a Pine Siskin is the yellow bar on it's wings.

                            Seen from above, the yellow coloration makes a striding pattern.

Pine Siskins must give stray cats great joy because they are anything but wary.  We can step out onto our deck and while most of the flock will take off in a crescendo of wing beats, a few will just hop around at our feet, still pecking at stray sunflower seeds -- kind of like my behavior when Karen asks a  meaningful question like “do you remember the day we met?”  Scatter seeds around Niko and soon the flock will gather around her, more aware of the seeds than the snoozing dog who never even sees them.


                                       Niko sleeps through the Pine Siskin feeding frenzy.

This year’s irruption started somewhere around mid winter.  In Canada researchers have correlated irruptions of another finch, the Common Redpoll, with food -- birch catkins (seed) production.  Around here Siskins normally feed on alder catkins (a similarity with Redpolls since alders are related to birch trees) as well as hemlock and spruce seeds.  The literature indicates they eat a lot of other foods, too, but I don’t even know what sweetgum is and elms don’t grow in Alaska.  Ah, but we do have sunflower seeds in our bird feeders.

Pine Siskins make lousy neighbors for their fellow Siskins.  Invariably a male (why is it always the males?) will stake out a pile of seeds and insist they’re all his, even if the pile of seeds is bigger that he is.  Of course defending his pile prevents him from indulging in his cache.  You’d think these stressed out males would be starving amidst all this plenty.

Karen has been enjoying this irruption of Pine Siskins.  During the morning feeding frenzy, those lower in the peck order, the snatchers, bring their prize up onto a branch by our bedroom window to indulge (stress free) in their morsel -- out of range of some bully down below.  They’re oblivious to Karen sitting a couple of feet away.  When we added on to our house a couple of years ago, I never realized we were just building a big blind for photographing birds.  Judging from Karen’s photos I’d say it was worth it.


                               
                                  A Pine Siskin finishes off the last of another sunflower seed.

     
                       A pair of Pine Siskins on a hemlock branch outside out bedroom window.


If you want to know more about these avian balls of fluff, check out:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/pine_siskin/lifehistory
http://web4.audubon.org/bird/cbc/WWL-Pine_Siskins.html

2 comments:

Cindi said...

The siskin with wings spread is gorgeous--I always enjoy these little visitors. In the last year, though, the jays seem to have scared ours off. I'm still working to create a safe space where they will feed off our deck and not be harassed by the predator birds.

Looks like good fodder for a painting.

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Karen says thanks Cindi. You must be hoarding the jays because so far this spring we only have one lonely jay. And, yes, Karen is planning on painting these balls of fluff.