Posted by: atowhee | November 17, 2020


Siskin numbers are increasing here in our siskin garden in Salem.  We must have at least 150 now.  They greatly out-number all the other birds combined. How do they communicate?  Is it more than siskin see, siskin do?  Do they instruct and describe as we know corvids can?

Their tribalism discourages other small birds.  The starlings, jays, crows and flicker seemed unimpressed.  However, residents like Spotted Towhee, Bewick’s Wren, BC Chickadee and Bushtits all seem to pick places where siskins aren’t or come when the numbers are low or they’ve been frightened off.  Siskin flocks do not encourage species diversity.  I will resist writing of any parallels to our own species’ politics.

The siskins are more afraid of domestic cats than wild squirrels.  They will feed just a few feet from a squirrel if there is a rose or other bush in between them.  Until I notice and drive off the neighbors’ cat(s), the siskins will retreat to the surrounding trees. They will return to a feeder within seconds of me going back inside. They will stare at me through a window from a few feet away, undaunted.

Above you will note that no siskin is nearby when I fund the Bushtit flock and the lone Spotted Towhee.

The Pine Siskin is one of more than 130 finch species found across the globe (not Antarctic).  Their Eurasian Siskin relative is brighter than ours with both jet black and more yellow in the adult plumage.  Its behavior and habitat is very similar.  The biggest finch on Earth, BTW, is our Evening Grosbeak right here in western North America.

It seems obvious now but the siskins hop and do not stroll as would a chicken or duck or egret.  Many small species (sparrows, wrens) are also mostly hoppers not walkers.  Most of the much larger walkers are NOT able to perch on narrow limbs so foot structure is clearly involved on both sides or the hop-walk dichotomy.  Here’s one unverified description I found online: “Their light bodies are easy to bounce into the air and they cover much more distance in a single hop than a walking stride from their short legs. For heavier birds, the extra load on their joints favors a gait that leaves one leg on the ground at all times. Plus, longer legs make walking faster.”

The siskin feeds by pecking and crushing as do many birds that are not raptors or woodpeckers. 

As they take over our feeders I believe I hear their little chant, “SIS-boom-bah”.


It was raining when the dog and I arrived at Fairview Wetlands around 4pm.  The sun was already low in the west.  Where it found a hole through the clouds the sunlight brought an intense glow to any yellow leaves or white clouds it touched.  To the east and south of us a bright arch of a rainbow glowed.  It was inside a fainter shadow rainbow.  The inner spectrum showed all the colors that are supposed to be there but are often not visible.

As  we watched a few low, puffy clouds floated to the east.  As they moved before the right foot of the rainbow the brilliant snow-white of the cloud erased the rainbow’s hues.

Any ducks that lifted from the marsh were etched sharply against the dark sky and their colors lighted by the slanted sunshine.

Then we walked past a sullen, soaked nutria.  How could a watery critter look so miserable in its natural element? 

Our final surprise: newly green yarrow plants in full bloom along the edge of the marsh. I must have had some magic mushroom for lunch again, could I have only imagined that I heard the bright green wild carrots murmuring, “HARDY-har-har” as they express pride over a late November flowering.

Foolishly I left my camera because it was raining so hard. Broke my own rule, “Don’t leave home without it.”


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