Siskin

Irish Name: Siscín
Scientific name: Carduelis spinus
Bird Family: Finches
green
Conservation status

Status

Resident. Additional birds arrive from Continent in winter. One of Ireland's Top 20 most widespread garden birds.

Identification

A small finch, with a fine, pointed bill and deeply forked tail, which is easily visible in flight. Male is mostly bright yellow (especially around the head and breast) with a whitish belly and yellow-green back. The female is a more muted version of the male and is more streaked. Male also shows a black crown and tiny bib. Both sexes have black and yellow markings on the wings and tail and a yellow rump. Mostly found in coniferous woods and in winter frequents alder woods. Readily comes to garden feeders in mid-winter.

Voice

Song a rapid series of quiet twitters, with some nasal notes. Call "tew", often given in flight.

Diet

Mostly pine cone seeds and alder cone seeds. Also uses peanut feeders.

Breeding

Breeds throughout Ireland. Mostly in coniferous woodland. Nests quite high in fork in conifer.

Wintering

Widespread, especially in gardens.

Monitored by

Garden Bird Survey.

Blog posts about this bird

Garden Birds

'Last Christmas' - Birds in Irish Gardens last winter

There's still time to take part in the Irish Garden Bird Survey!! See here for more details. 

  If you’re a BirdWatch Ireland member you’ll have already read the results of last year’s survey in your winter edition of Wings magazine. If you’re not a member, please join and support our work! But you can catch up on last year’s Irish Garden Bird Survey results with the overview below. If this is your first year to take part in the survey, don’t worry about knowing every single species that might appear in your garden – just familiarise yourself with the most common ones to start off. If you’re a survey veteran, then see how your garden bird list compares to the national average!    

Over 90% of Irish Gardens

The species at the top of the list didn’t change much from previous years. Robin, as per usual, was on top, followed by Blackbird and Blue Tit. Great Tit and Magpie moved up a place each into 4th and 5th, thanks to a fall in the numbers of Chaffinch reported. Robins can still be territorial in the winter, so are pretty evenly spread across the country, while our Blackbird population is topped up by hundreds of thousands of migrants from Scandinavia in the winter, hence their high-ranking each year. Blue Tits and Great Tits are pretty ubiquitous too, and Magpies are very effective at exploiting both urban and rural habitats.  

 

80-90% of Irish Gardens

Chaffinch and Goldfinch fell two and three places to 6th and 10th respectively, since the previous winter, and those declines were greatest in urban and suburban gardens rather than rural ones. On the back of a great breeding season, Coal Tit moved up three places to 7th place. House Sparrows kept 8th position, and Starling made it into the top 10 garden birds for the first time in a decade!  

 

50-80% of Irish Gardens

Wren dropped two places to 11th, while species such as Dunnock (12th), Rook (16th), Collared Dove (17th) all stayed in the same position as the previous winter. When a winter is pretty mild (the occasional storm excluded) we tend to see this stability in the rankings across many species. There was some slight movement for Woodpigeon (14th), Jackdaw (15th) and Hooded Crow (19th), all of which fell one place. The mild weather tends to mean these species aren’t forced to retreat to gardens for food as much as in other winters. Song Thrush increased by around 2% and jumped to places in the rankings to 13th. Pied Wagtail rose up two places to 18th and occurred in >7% more gardens than they did on average over the preceding five year period. Despite being very common in towns, cities and shopping centre carparks, they’re actually seen in twice as many rural gardens as urban or suburban ones. Greenfinch continue to suffer the devastating effects of trichomoniasis (make sure to clean your feeders regularly!) and reached a new low for the species in the survey – 20th place.   Pied Wagtail

 

20-50% of Irish Gardens

While the above species occur in more than 50% of gardens, you’re in the minority if one of the below appears in your garden this winter: Siskin jumped up 7 places (8%) since the previous year. They usually start to appear in gardens from mid-January onwards, but they were making appearances from late November right through to March in most parts of the country last winter. No other species made such a big jump pup the table! One of the bigger losers was Goldcrest - down 5 places to 29th, a decrease of nearly 8%. It was a mild winter, and a good breeding season for most species in 2020, so the reason for this isn’t immediately obvious. Bullfinch dropped three places to 24th, but this might just be due to the mild winter and abundance of feeding options in the wider countryside, as they’re not a bird that visits feeders and so aren’t as associated with gardens as other finches. Other species in the 20-50% band include Blackcap, Long-tailed Tit, Sparrowhawk, Mistle Thrush and Feral Pigeon. Again, not species that tend to avail of bird feeders with any regularity, but species who know how to make a good living in a human-dominated landscape, be it rural, urban or suburban.  

bullfinch-in-shrub-munching-on-berries

buzzard-sitting-in-field

Best of the rest

Despite being a non-native species, Pheasants tend to be seen in 15-20% of gardens each year, which is surprisingly high considering they don’t tend to breed well in the wild, so are reliant on being released by gun clubs every autumn. Buzzards moved two places up the rankings and are seen over 15% of gardens each winter. Herring Gulls were in 11% of gardens, Black-headed Gulls in 4%, and 1.3% of gardens had some sort of gull visiting but weren’t sure what species! Great Spotted Woodpeckers are one of the most recent additions to our bird community, and over 4% of gardens had one visiting their peanut feeders (it’s always peanut feeders!) last winter. They’re now breeding in almost every county in Ireland, so expect to see them charging up the rankings table in the coming years. Last year was a mast year for acorns, which meant Oak trees were providing a huge bounty for species such as Jays, and as a result they were seen in fewer gardens than usual (8%, down 1% from the average). This tends to happen every few years. Lastly, Redwing and Fieldfare, our two wintering thrush species, both dropped a bit, thanks again to the mild winter.   jay-drinking-from-hollow-tree-trunk     See below for the full Top 30 birds in Irish gardens last winter, and their various ups and downs since the previous year. Most gardens record between 10 and 25 species over the course of a winter. Whether you have more or less than that, we still need you do to the survey!  
   

We are hugely grateful to Ballymaloe  for their sponsorship and support of the Irish Garden Bird Survey.

For more details about the Irish Garden Bird Survey click here, or download the survey form below.

 
Garden Birds

Irish Garden Birds 2020/21 - Changing Garden Bird Numbers over the last 20 years

We're in the final week of this years Irish Garden Bird Survey! Annual surveys like this that are really vital to flag any problematic declines in some of our favourite species, and also to help us understand why certain species are increasing! We thought we'd take a look back at a few of the changes we've seen over the course of the survey, to remind you how important your counts are and how much we can learn from your data!   

Please make sure to send your garden bird counts in as soon as possible when the survey finishes - either online, via email, or via post

  The graphs below are based on the mean number of each species in Irish Gardens on a weekly basis during the Irish Garden Bird Survey. With that in mind, the graphs are a product of 1) changing bird numbers, 2) changes in the number of gardens a species is found in and 3) changes to the number of weeks that a species is found in gardens. The graphs are intuitive though, because as bird numbers increase they’re found in more gardens and in more weeks, and similarly as other species decline then they occur in fewer gardens and fewer weeks during the survey!  

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is kindly sponsored by Ballymaloe.

   

Goldfinch

Goldfinch have undoubtedly shown the biggest increase in Irish gardens in recent years. In the mid-1990’s they were in around 30% of gardens, ranking around 20-25th place each year, but they are now seen in over 85% of gardens each winter (top 10), with total numbers consistently increasing too. Previously they would only enter gardens to avail of fine seeds on weeds and flowers, but as people put out more and more palatable seeds (nyjer, sunflower hearts) the Goldfinches switched to feeders and have since firmly established themselves as a garden bird.  Some have speculated that the recent decline of Greenfinches might have benefited Goldfinches to some extent as they face less competition for food.  

Jay

The Jay is actually a member of the crow family, and it’s one of the few birds for which we have a distinct Irish subspecies. Their size and colour make them unmistakable, and like all crow species they’re fascinating to watch as they go about their business. They’re more of an ecological specialist than our other crows and are most strongly associated with broadleaf woodland (Oak in particular). Their numbers appear to be increasing in Ireland in recent years. Like the other crow species, they’re an intelligent bird and if they find a food source they’re going to return to it, so it’s no surprise that they’re taking advantage of the food in more and more (circa 10%) of Irish gardens. They won’t be able for your feeders but leave a handful of peanuts out early in the morning or late in the evening to get a glimpse!  

Siskin

The trend for Siskins in Irish gardens is variable to say the least! They’re a small conifer woodland-specialist finch and really only come to gardens when their favourite tree seeds have run out late in the winter. In some years they don’t really visit gardens at all, or if they do it’s well into the spring, and these are the years where the Sitka Spruce seed crop (amongst others) has been particularly good and keeps them going into the new year. They mainly visit gardens in late January and February, often in large flocks, and make good use of both peanut and seed feeders. Because they associate so closely with woodland, they’re more likely to turn up in rural and suburban gardens than urban ones.    

Long-tailed Tit

Two things are obvious from the graph below. The first is that, on average, more Long-tailed Tits have been using Irish gardens in the last 10 years than they did in the late 1990’s. The second is that there’s a lot of variation in the trend for Long-tailed Tits – a lot of ups, a lot of downs, and just when you think their numbers have stabilised for a couple of years there’s another spike or fall in numbers! If we were to look at trends for species such as Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Wren we’d see something similar. These birds are all tiny in size, they weigh less than 10g total, and they’re all predominantly insectivorous. All of that means that they’re the most susceptible of any bird species when cold weather hits – the increases are from them retreating to gardens in search of food during cold weather spells, and the decreases that tend to follow are due to a drop off in numbers that didn’t survive the previous winter. A few mild winters later and their numbers are back to normal, and then another cold winter hits and the cycle starts again! As long as they don’t meet too many successive cold years they’re able to cope with this sort of short-term fluctuation, and their breeding numbers have increased a bit in the last 25 years in a similar way to their winter numbers through the Irish Garden Bird Survey.  

Greenfinch

This is a species that used to occur in around 90% of gardens each winter. Last winter it was 58% of gardens, the lowest levels ever seen in the survey. The reason is trichomoniasis – infection by a parasite that lodges in the throat of the bird and always results in death of the infected individual. This parasite isn’t anything new – it has long been known to occur in pigeons and birds of prey, but around 12 years ago the parasite ‘jumped’ to finch populations and Greenfinch were particularly hard hit. In Ireland the UK we’ve lost millions of Greenfinches to this parasite, and their numbers continue to fall. Into the future, it’s likely that Greenfinch numbers will undergo a boom-bust type pattern at a local level, where numbers in a part of the country increase over a couple of years, as they increase the parasite spreads more, then the numbers decrease again and the cycle starts again. The one thing you can do to help stop the spread is to wash your birdfeeders and water dishes regularly!

To learn more about trichomoniasis and sick finches, click here.

   

Linnet

This finch is very much considered a farmland bird. In the early days of the Irish Garden Bird Survey they were in less than 5% of gardens but more recently it has risen to around 10% and almost up to 12%. That increase hasn’t been uniform but has actually occurred more so in urban and suburban gardens compared to rural ones. The Bird Atlas showed some variation in their distribution in Ireland in winter and that they’ve lost some ground in the west but remained largely stable in east, and we know from the summer Countryside Bird Survey that they’re total numbers are doing pretty ok. It may be that the higher temperatures and ‘new’ feeding opportunities in built-up areas, couple with less competition from the declining Greenfinches, is working to the benefit of our Linnet population. Somewhat surprisingly given the similarity of our bird communities, Linnets are never really found in gardens in the UK.  

Song Thrush

Most people would recognise a ‘thrush’, and the one you’re more likely to see is the Song Thrush (compared to the less common Mistle Thrush). This is a species that has definitely declined in gardens over the years, though there is some fluctuation in their population trend. The good and bad spells can be linked to winter weather conditions. Years with heavy snow and extended frosty periods make it very difficult for Song Thrushes to forage for worms, slugs and snails and their numbers take a huge hit after a cold winter, requiring a few mild winters to stabilise again.  

Buzzard

There are plenty of negative stories when it comes to declines and loss of species, and the struggles of conservation, but this is a very positive one. Having been extinct here for the best part of 100 years, Buzzards naturally recolonised without the need for a reintroduction project, and slowly spread from the north and the east coast and are now back breeding in every county in Ireland. There won’t be much in your garden for them to eat, though you might be lucky enough to see one soaring overhead, or if you’re really lucky they might perch on a field gate or a telephone pole and inspect their surroundings!    

The Irish Garden Bird Survey finishes on Sunday 28th Feb 2021. You can submit your results online via this link, or send a photo/scan of your form to gardenbirds@birdwatchireland.ie .

You can also post your form to us - the address is at the bottom of your form.

   

This winter we're running a series of blogs like this one, filled with facts and figures about your favourite garden birds, click here for more.

We are hugely grateful to Ballymaloe  for their sponsorship and support of the Irish Garden Bird Survey.

 

Click below to download your count form for this year's Irish Garden Bird Survey.

 

Similar Species

Greenfinch

Irish Name:
Glasán darach
Scientific name:
Chloris chloris
Bird Family:
Finches