Eli, Ellie, and I Like Siskins - UPDATE January 12, 2019

Happy 6th Birthday to Eli and Ellie. It’s Ellie’s year to have cubs. Pine siskinPine siskinI wonder if she had them on her birthday today. I’ll never forget their Beary-Go-Round (click for video) near the end of the longest denning period I have record of—235 days, about 7.7 months from the time we first found Lily by the den on August 31, 2012 (very lethargic with a heart rate of only 57/minute) to when they finally left on April 23, 2013 after a blizzard and temperatures as low as -23C (-9F) kept them in longer than usual.

I like siskins. They are among the friendlier birds. A few years back about 17 landed on me, including a few American goldfinches. Both are in the same genus: Spinus pinus and Spinus tristis. Siskins are more northern. Here in Ely, we’re near the southern edge of their nesting range and near the northern edge for goldfinches. Northern birds tend to be more friendly—or I should say more willing to assess risks and benefits and show a little trust. Siskins will occasionally land on my hand, but goldfinches never have. Black-capped chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches are the champions of that. Hoary and Common Redpolls are tamer than siskins and come from much farther north. The reason the goldfinches landed on me with the siskins was that I was standing where I’d had a mannequin covered with food. Just to see what would happen, I moved the mannequin and stood there myself, covered with food. It was close enough to what they were used to, and they came quickly. That’s what led me to have a mannequin on the viewing deck at the Bear Center—to see if chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches would get used to landing on the mannequin or its hand and then do that with visitors, maybe putting on the same shirt as the mannequin, but we didn’t have time to work on that enough.

Thousands of siskins are around here this winter. At home, Donna feeds a flock of over a hundred daily. A couple days ago, I went out the back door and the flock covered a bush and the ground where Donna puts the food maybe 25 feet from the door. I stood and watched. They fed without concern. I walked past maybe 15 feet away. They didn’t fly. Then something spooked them when I was maybe 20-25 feet away. What a spectacle! The main flock circled away and back over as stragglers joined them. Then I was amazed as the whole flock easily swooped so high they were unrecognizable dots. Then a few, and soon all, descended in a stream straight down toward the bush again. At their height, they looked like they were diving straight at me. Exciting to see. They streaked closer and closer and finally fluttered onto the bush and ground where Donna’s food was.

When a mixed flock of siskins and goldfinches comes here, it was interesting to stand a couple feet from the food and count how many of each landed within a certain amount of time. I didn’t look up the numbers, but nearly all the siskins landed before any of the goldfinches did. I’m glad when birds and animals give me a chance to learn something about them.

Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center