BTO Garden Bird of the Month – August: Siskin

A surge of unseasonal siskins into gardens has capped a topsy-turvy summer.

© Edmund Fellowes
© Edmund Fellowes

A surge of unseasonal siskins into gardens has capped a topsy-turvy summer.

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There have been times over the past few months when it has been difficult to gauge the season. The calendar dutifully informs us that May, June and July have ticked by, but the weather has felt more like a daily pick ’n’ mix from any month.

Leaves are still on the trees, so it cannot be autumn, and there are still enough insects on the wing to convince me that it’s not yet winter.

Garden bird communities are usually a good seasonal barometer, but even here a curveball has been thrown.

Charting the influx

Siskins are chattering finches that normally peak in their use of gardens during late winter. But they have flooded into gardens this summer.

Every week, thousands of householders tell us what birds they see in their gardens, as part of our Garden BirdWatch survey, revealing wonderful annual and seasonal trends in garden-use by birds.

At this time of the year we would expect to see siskins reported from around 1 in 20 gardens nationwide, but this year the figure has jumped to around 1 in 8.

In Scotland and Wales these delightful finches are being reported from roughly half of the gardens from which we receive reports.

siskin_graph-93cc461

The percentage of gardens visited by siskins this summer has soared (BTO Garden BirdWatch) 

Why now?

The breeding population size of siskins is benefiting from extensive areas of conifer plantations reaching maturity. This is where siskins prefer to feed and nest and as a result, their numbers have increased by 77 per cent since 2004.

This year has also been exceptional. Siskins nest relatively early and therefore were more likely to have benefited from the good weather we experienced at the start of this year.

However, a bumper breeding season has been followed by poor weather conditions for siskin fledglings. As a consequence, the species has been visiting garden feeding stations in recent weeks.

How to attract siskins to your garden

Siskins will take a range of seeds in gardens. Their favourites are sunflower hearts and nyjer seed. Sunflower hearts can be provided from a standard seed feeder but nyjer seed is very fine and requires a special nyjer seed feeder.

Siskins are sociable diners, so feeders with several ports are ideal. Similar to other finches, siskins appear to prefer larger perches (circular or triangular) rather than straight bars.

How to spot a siskin

Siskins are mainly yellow-green in colour, with bright yellow wing bars, rump and markings on the tail. These brighter markings are more noticeable in adult males, which also have a black crown and bib.

Females are duller and streakier than males, and lack the black crown and bib.

Youngsters are streakier again, are browner on the back and generally appear more washed out than females.

Siskins can be confused with superficially similar greenfinches. To help distinguish ‘green’ finches in your garden the BTO has reissued a handy identification guide.

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Download the guide or request a hard copy from the Garden Ecology Team by emailing gbw@bto.org.

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 30,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.

For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email gbw@bto.org