For the past month or more, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker has been excavating a hole near the end of a broken branch of a Loblolly Pine. The pine is just outside the entrance to the Lemur House. The bird will, presumably, use the hole to roost in during the cold winter nights, and perhaps to nest in later in the year. This industrious woodpecker is not always at the site, but is usually on the job from a little after noon till 2 PM or so. On January 10th, while I was leading a Bird Walk during Birdapalooza, the woodpecker could not be found. After some time, the bird finally poked its head out of the hole just as we were ready to move on. It was inside the cavity the whole time!
Throughout the Carolinas, Pine Siskins have been reported at many bird feeders during the past several weeks. I hadn’t seen these small, slender birds at the Bird Feeder Exhibit in Catch the Wind until I paid a visit there on January 7th when I counted nine of them. Pine Siskins are seen in our area every year, although not in great numbers. This year appears to be an exceptional year. Their movements seemed tied to the availability of the wild seed crop. They tend to flock, sometimes with Goldfinches, and are nomadic in their movements. Their flocks may include thousands of individuals. I hadn’t seen a siskin in several years, although, as mentioned, they have been reported locally by others in past years.
In our area, Pine Siskins are most often confused with House Finches, Purple Finches, and American Goldfinches. They’re more alike in behavior, size, and structure to goldfinches, although as you can see in the accompanying photos, goldfinches do not have the streaks on their breasts as do siskins. It’s difficult to see in these photos, but siskins usually have a flash of yellow in the wings and at the base of the tail, which may add to the confusion when you’re trying to figure out just what that “new” little bird is that wandered into your yard.
Although three of the finches mentioned are heavily streaked, female House Finches and young male/female Purple Finches can be eliminated from the mix by their larger, more conical bills. Also, neither House nor Purple Finches have a notched tail as do the siskins (see photo, Pine Siskin 2, below). Both are larger and more heavily built than siskins. Unlike the other two streak-breasted finches, siskins have a wheezy or buzzy call and are usually very vocal, they’re usually making noise.
One of these sleek little birds hung around for Birdapalooza on January 10th at the Museum, to the delight of those who took part in the Bird Walk around the Explore the Wild/Catch the Wind Loop that day. This lone siskin is usually seen in the company of two or three American Goldfinches. If you stand, or sit, by the Bird Feeders in Catch the Wind you may see it. Be patient. The Pine Warblers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, and other birds that frequent the feeders should keep you busy until this little band of finches arrives.