Posted by: atowhee | November 15, 2020


Pine Siskins. They cannot swallow fragments of sunflower seed whole.  They must pick up one or more and then crush them in their beak.  Goldfinches must do the same.  Juncos, meanwhile, can pluck and swallow a seed fragment without crushing.

How small is a siskin beak (females’ bills are slightly bigger)? Smaller than most other finches’. It is small in all proportions–short, sharp and thin. It is what a word player would denote as “si-skin(ny)”.  A siskin’s beak will measure about .36 inches in adult. In the average American Goldfinch the beak is about .41 inches long (males in this species slighter larger in most measurements). Dark-eyed Junco beaks can be as much as half an inch long and are much heavier than a siskin’s.

The siskins do occasionally feud over a certain seed if they both beak for it at the same time.  They are quite aggressive toward the larger juncos who must stay at the periphery or get attacked by one or more siskin.  Siskins tolerate the slightly bigger goldfinches who act and crunch much like their smaller cousins.

Today a Bushtit flock came through the garden, staying up in the roses and other bushes, above the feeding siskin crowd.  My first Bushtit sighting here this month.

Handbook of Oregon Birds says siskins are nesting species of the Cascade conifer forests and southwestern corner of the Oregon coast as well as the archipelago of conifer islands in eastern Oregon’s sea of juniper and sagebrush steppe.  They may stay in Willamette until June but they will not nest in your dogwood or apple tree.

Finally, I love that word: “siskin”. It invites so many variations. Well, these tiny guys cut a big swath in avian nomenclature. Ready for their Latin binomial? Spinus pinus!
Not many binomials rhyme and swing like that.
Might be as good as my favorite European bird binomial: Upupa epops.
That would be a Hoopoe. This bird has much else going for it. No near relatives–a family to itself. The bird’s call is “hoo-poo” repeated numerous times. So it’s name is an example of onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is an example, in turn, of finest Greekiness. And Hoopoe are found in the Greek countryside. I once found one on the island of Lesvos after our birding guide said there were none! He was from Scotland and was probably just jealous that Greece could have such a bird.

And the look of the Hoopoe–in my next life I want a crest like that!

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