I was expecting Pine Siskins here. After all, there are pines. There are thistles and willows and all the other things Pine Siskins enjoy. Like so many nomads human and otherwise, the Pine Siskins are pleased to call this valley home base.

But I wasn’t expecting so many. I was used to Pine Siskin, singular, a hidden prize in a crackerjack flock of American Goldfinch, earned with much digging. When, instead, twenty-plus siskins landed on my feeder without a goldfinch in sight, I felt like I’d dropped a quarter in the slot machine and hit the jackpot. I grinned with anticipation of Great Backyard Bird Count lists to come.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy the abundance of Pine Siskins in my adopted home. But my recent move has, as I hoped, brought me more productive bird-feeding and even the opportunity to take (bad) photos of the kinetic little sparrowish finches.


I’ve always been rather fascinated by trans-Atlantic bird families, perhaps because of growing up with copious mentions of British birds in my children’s books. It took me a while to sort out that their Common Blackbird was more akin to our American Robin than it was to our blackbirds (or the robin to their Robin), that their warblers were not our warblers, that their tits were our chickadees. The siskins are much simpler. The Pine Siskin is clear kin to the Eurasian Siskin (sometimes simply called a Siskin; also known by the charming archaic names of Golden Wren and Aberdavine), which is believed to be its direct ancestor.

The two species share not only a general look (all Pine Siskins tend to take more after the streaky female Eurasian Siskin) and many habits of diet and behavior, but similar wandelust. The Eurasian Siskin too erupts from time to time, pushing south in abnormal numbers for reasons believed to be related to food abundance but truly understood only by the birds themselves. Once in a great while, a Eurasian Siskin will even make the longer journey to visit his or her American cousins the Pine Siskins.

What do you do with a whole pile of Cracker Jack prizes? Enjoy them, to be sure. But maybe, also, dig for the one made of gold. Now that would be a Bird Count coup.

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at DaysAtDunrovin.com.