Creature Feature

Pine siskins sometimes pay the Bay region a visit.

Irruptions Bring Visitors to Area 

By Wayne Bierbaum 

In the beginning of this year, I wrote about birds of the far north that on rare occasions come south into our area. These birds stay home for the winter except when there is a loss of a food source, then they travel to find food. These trips south are called irruptions. This fall, a large irruption of pine siskins and a smaller influx of purple finches has already started.  

The last irruption of siskins was eight years ago. At that time, in the middle of winter, three or four pine siskins would occasionally show up at a feeder. This year I already have had up to 20 at a time and they go through a week’s worth of finch food in a day. They are really sloppy and wasteful eaters. I have not seen a purple finch this season but they have been reported all around our area.  

Pine siskins, traveling in flocks, are slightly smaller than a goldfinch but have a pointier bill and are striped all over. The adults are brown with yellow bars on the wing. They live in the pine and fir forests of northern Canada and feed on seeds and nuts; they really like thistle seeds.  

The purple finch is a deep purple large bird, bigger than a house finch with which they are often confused. The house finch may be purple in color too, but not as deeply purple and the stripes on its chest are brown. The purple finch has purple stripes with a wide light-colored bar above their eyes. They fly in small groups and are frequently seen as pairs at feeders. They are fond of sunflower seeds. 

Watch for these visitors from the far north. They may not show up again for many more years.