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The Photo that you see today of a male Siskin is unusual, not that the bird is unusual, but it is the first time that I have used a photo that I did not take myself.
It was handed into the “Buteman” office for me by Brian Caird. He had seen this strange bird on his nut feeder, and took a photo of it, so as to find out what it was, as he had not seen one like it before. As he was using a digital camera, he then downloaded the image of the bird on to his computer and then printed it, and then looked for me to identify it. But he met someone else on route who told him what it was, and he was happy, but still carried on to the office and left the photo of the Siskin plus another one of a Milestone for me. So as his Siskin photo was better than the one that I had taken myself, it was logical to use his( Thanks Brian, it was very much appreciated).
Back to the Siskin. These little birds (12cm, ) breed high up in conifer trees, and as Scotland has more than it’s fair share of these trees, it means that there is plenty of room for them to spread their wings. They are members of the Finch family and are like small Greenfinches. They like damp areas of woodland, and have a liking for the Alder, Birch and Larch trees, where they extract the seeds from these species.. They also have taken a liking to our nut feeders and will desend on them to eat their fill, as extracting the nuts is no problem for them at all with their strong bills. The one that you see is a male. the difference between sexes is easy to distinguish as the male has a black crown, forehead, and bib, which is absent on the females. They both have a mixture of black, green and yellow, but the most striking feature on the male is the black wings with bold yellow wingbars, with the female a bit duller as is required to keep her hidden as she sits on her eggs high up in the trees, invisible to predators. Sometimes they have been mistaken for Yellowhammers, our own “Scotch Canary”, and more than once have I had reports of yellowhammers feeding on nuts and seeds on bird tables which turned out to be siskins. The sad thing is, that I very rarely see yellowhammers nowadays. Gone are the days when you could go out the West Road and find umpteen nest in the hedges all the way to Scalpsie and also in all other other areas as well. Now you will hardly see any at all as there seems to be a drastic decrease in their numbers, which is a pity as their call, a “little bit of bread and no cheese”is now seldom heard.
Siskins are very agile feeders, and will hang uside down to feed just like the tit family giving us a good display of their agility, and they are also just as oblivious to humans, as are the tits, so you will get plenty of time to watch their antics as they chase each other plus other small birds to get the prime eating area to themselves just as all birds do. At one time these birds were confined to Scotland, but with afforestation all over, they have greatly increased their numbers and can now be found in scattered places throught the British Isles, and now even breed on the south coast, and also in Ireland, that is how much a success they are. As like most birds they are very welcome in our gardens, giving us enjoyment, and at times a good laugh.
First Published in the Buteman 18-07-2003