Siskin Trouble

Pine siskin peeks around from behind feeder.
Pine siskin peeks around from behind feeder.


It’s been cold, snowy, and icy the past few weeks (oddly, it’s in the 70s as I write this), and the birds have been going through bird seed like a kid through an ice cream cone on a hot day. I’ve had to refill both sunflower and thistle feeders every other day (4 different seed feeders and 3 suet feeders).

We’ve had much larger numbers of birds at our feeders before, but whenever it’s cold or there is substantial snow cover, the birds, seed and suet eaters, literally flock to the feeders.

The abundance of songbirds, woodpeckers, and other birds at the feeders also attracts birds of prey. I’ve seen four species of raptor at our feeders; red-shouldered, red-tailed, sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s hawks. All of those hawks are looking for something to eat, whether mammal (squirrel) or bird.

As I filled the feeders one day, I noticed a yellow and black feather on top of the snow, then another, and more feathers, spread around the thistle, or nyger, feeding station. They were flight feathers, both tail and wing feathers.


A careful look will reveal three feathers on the snow.
A careful look will reveal three feathers on the snow.


A tail feather on the snow.
This one looks like a secondary feather from one of the wings.


Two tail feathers.
These appear to be tail feathers.


The feathers had apparently been pulled from their owner. The lack of blood or flesh in the area suggested that the owner of the feathers had not been killed and eaten on the spot. The predator, most likely a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk, may have hauled off its victim to another location for consumption. On the bright side though (depending upon your perspective), it could have been a near miss, the hawk only getting a talon full of feathers for its trouble.

Siskins are small, mostly gray-brown streaked birds. There’s a bit of yellow on their wings and tails. It’s sometimes difficult to see the yellow, and the amount of color varies among individual birds, but it’s there. Often, one only gets a glimpse of the lemony yellow markings as the birds take flight, a quick flash as the birds take off. But, some of the more heavily marked birds show their true colors while perched.


Both wing and tail markings can be seen on this individual.
Both wing and tail markings can be seen on this individual.


The feathers I found had belonged to a pine siskin.

Some folks find it difficult to digest the fact that their songbirds will become food for other wildlife. However, when you put out bird feeders, you’re not only feeding the birds that eat the seed in those feeders, hawks and other bird consuming wildlife will find the site worth visiting from time to time.

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