Invasion of the Thistle Snatchers
From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: The title from this post came from an e-mail we got yesterday, passed along from a naturalist at a nature center farther east in Ohio. Thistle snatchers -- yeah, they're talking about Pine Siskins. These sturdy little nomads have been showing up all over the place, little flocks bouncing around the fields and woodland edges all over the Midwest. I wrote about these birds back on October 14th -- see that post for more info.
It doesn't look like it at first glance, but the Pine Siskin is closely related to the American Goldfinch. In my Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, I described it as looking "like a goldfinch in camouflage." And like the goldfinch, it's a major seed-eater. It likes the seeds of wild thistles, but it will come to bird feeders (often in the company of goldfinches) to eat Nyjer seed, which is often marketed as "thistle seed." One thing you'll notice, if you get siskins at your feeder, is that they're fearless. Goldfinches may get nervous and fly away if you approach within 20 feet, but the Pine Siskins will just glance at you with a bored expression -- "hunhh, who are you ..." -- and then go back to eating. Often you can walk right up and admire them up close. The streaky look, thin spiky bill, and flashes of yellow in the wings and tail will tell you for sure that you've got Pine Siskins. And this is the year to see them; they're still moving south in massive numbers. I expect we'll probably see some when we go to Cape May, New Jersey, later this week.