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

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.

 

Birds of Prey

Irish Garden Birds 2020 - How much do your garden birds weigh?

There's still time to get started with the Irish Garden Bird Survey!  It's the biggest and longest-running survey of it's kind in Ireland. We need as many people as possible all over the country to take part this winter. Taking part couldn't be easier - See here for details on how to participate this winter . See below for information on how much your garden birds weigh, and why feeding them at this time of year is so important! 

 

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is kindly sponsored by Ballymaloe. Click below to learn about taking part this winter.

  The birds in your garden are much more worried about putting on weight this Christmas than you are! If you have a small body, your surface-to-mass ratio is much higher, which means there's more of a surface area for your body heat to escape from - i.e. you can lose heat very quickly. Heat is energy, and if you’re losing heat and burning off more body fuel than you put on each day then you’re in trouble! This is why feeding your garden birds is so worthwhile – not only are you giving them food high in calories, fat and protein, but you’re providing a predictable source of food so they don’t have to waste energy every day traversing the hedgerows of the countryside in search of any morsels that might keep them going. The winter days are short and the nights are long and cold, so anything that saves the birds energy is a gamechanger!   To really hammer home the point it’s worth thinking about just how little our garden birds actually weigh. We know this through bird ringing. Trained and licensed scientists and ornithologists, in a largely voluntary capacity, catch birds and fit them with a small metal ring to get an idea of how many individuals are in an area, how long they live, how far they travel and a whole host of other data which is pooled together to help us learn about some of the intricate details of the lives of our common and rare bird species. One of the standard bits of information recorded during ringing is the weight of the bird. People occasionally email BirdWatch Ireland saying they saw a ‘big Blackbird’ or a ‘small Starling’, but in reality the variation between individuals of the same species is generally quite small (except where males and females are quite different e.g. corvids, pigeons,  birds of prey). See below to get an idea of how much your garden birds weigh, and how much of a difference a few grams of peanuts, seeds or fatballs make to their attempt to survive the winter! And remember, if you're buying bird food, feeders, nestboxes and other bird-related gifts this winter then check out the BirdWatch Ireland Shop here - by buying from us you're also helping to support our conservation work!     Traditionally, one might compare the weight of a small bird to that of a coin or a known amount of coins but given the likelihood that your wallet or purse has more plastic cards than coins in it, lets go with that. So, the average bank or supermarket clubcard weighs 5g – keep that in mind!  

Less than 10 grams (two bank cards)

The smallest bird in Ireland is the Goldcrest – they weigh a mere 6g on average but can range from 4.7g (i.e. less than your bank card!) to 6.1g. Not far behind them, with average weights of 9-10g are Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Treecreeper and Wren. These species will be the most active in your garden over the winter because the days are so short that they literally need to be feeding non-stop throughout the day to maintain their weight and survive the night! Wrens and Long-tailed Tits, amongst others, are known to communally roost during the winter – that is, they find some sheltered location and squeeze in together for the night in an effort to share body heat! In the case of Long-tailed Tits, because they’re all closely related they will take turns in the middle (i.e. warmest part) of the group before moving to the outside to give someone else a turn. For other species, where a roost will comprise of a number of unrelated individuals, they’re less generous, so you don’t want to be the last one in and stuck on the outside of the group!  

10-20g (two to four bank cards)

Some individual Blue Tits and Lesser Redpolls might come in at under 10g, but generally they average around 11g and can range up to 12.5g on a good day! Siskins are only slightly bigger at 13g, and then you have Goldfinch (17g), Great Tit (18g) and Robin (19g). Robins play it smart by staying territorial in the winter, and even the females will guard a territory – sometimes one where there’s suitable food but a lack of nesting space so it wouldn’t have been a core territory during the summer. By identifying somewhere with a suitable food source and aggressively guarding it, they save themselves a lot of energy and trouble having to range far and wide in search of food. Goldfinches do the opposite by flocking, but the more eyes in a flock the more likely you are to find food.

20-30g (four to 6 bank cards, or 3 or 4 € coins)

Despite looking much chunkier and heavier, Bullfinches weigh the same on average as the slimline Pied Wagtail (both 21g), and our wintering Blackcaps are the same. Chaffinch weigh in at 24g on average, and it won’t surprise you that House Sparrow (27g) and Greenfinch (28g) are at the top end of the scale when it comes to ‘small’ garden birds. Still, as heavy as they might be, you’re still talking a few bank cards, or four €1 coins! When you think about the battle for survival that these birds face day in day out, it’s amazing that something so small and slight can achieve so much! Don't forget, in the case of the Chaffinch some of the birds in your garden will have migrated from as far away as Scandinavia, in the hope that their chances of finding food and surviving the winter are better here, even taking into account the pressures of migration. Tipping the Scales Of course, there are some much bigger species that use Irish gardens. Despite all looking roughly the same size, there’s a lot of variation in the Thrush family. Redwings, which migrate here from Iceland and Scandinavia each winter weigh around 63g, our resident (and some migratory..) Song Thrushes range from 64-90g but usually come in around 83g, Blackbirds and Fieldfares both average around 100g and Mistle Thrush is the real heavyweight of the family at 130g.   Once you start looking at bigger birds, there tend to be more of a difference between the sexes, with males generally bigger than females for the crows and pigeons. Amongst the crow species, Jays weigh the least (168g), followed by Magpies and Jackdaws (220g, 230g), then Rooks (450g) and Hooded Crow (510g). In the case of Magpies, males are around 40g heavier than females and for Rooks there’s a 60g difference, with the others showing similar discrepancies. For the pigeons, Collared Doves (205g) weigh around half as much as Woodpigeons (507g). Imagine being a 10g Coal Tit, plucking spilled seeds from under a bird feeder when a Woodpigeon more than 50 times your size lands beside you!
Collared Doves look only a bit smaller than Woodpigeons, but actually Woodpigeons weigh twice as much!
  Lastly there’s the exception to the rule of sexes. Amongst many birds of prey the female is actually bigger than the male, and it’s the same for Sparrowhawks. Females weigh on average 266g (range 186-345g), while males are a third smaller at 151g (range 131-180g). Such a big discrepancy between such specialist birds means that male and female Sparrowhawks will actually target very different-sized prey to each other.   male-sparrowhawk-perching-on-mossy-rock
Male Sparrowhawks are a third smaller than females.
  When you realise just how small most of our garden birds are, you can really appreciate the importance of a reliable food source for them, particularly during the winter! Remember, BirdWatch Ireland needs your support now more than ever, and our annual membership makes for a great christmas gift that will keep on giving throughout the year! See here for full details.  

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is running right now and taking part couldn't be easier! Click here for full details about the survey as well as as advice on caring for your birds through the winter.

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:
Carduelis chloris
Bird Family:
Finches