Image: Richard Ditch, 2008 [larger view].
Date Time Original: 2008:04:16 08:46:29
Exposure Time: 1/319
Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Start at the back, start at the back! We see a short-tailed bird with a long wingtip, and both wing and tail show yellow: simple feather edgings in the wing, but a significant basal patch in the tail. Off the top of my head, I can think of only two North American birds that show such a pattern: Yellow Warbler and Pine Siskin. The streaked undertail coverts rule out the warbler. So is this a Pine Siskin?
A careful look at the wing pattern shows that the yellow feather edgings actually broaden into a patch at the base of the primaries. Otherwise, the generally drab, finely streaked plumage is relieved by only the well-defined whitish wingbars. The face is blank, the eye small, and the bill clearly sharp-pointed, with a perfectly straight culmen (the ridge of the upper mandible). This is a Pine Siskin.
The major confusion species here is not, of course, Yellow Warbler, but another streaky finch, the House Finch. Not all Pine Siskins are as yellow as this individual, and birders unfamiliar with the species often try to make the abundant House Finch into a siskin. House Finch, though, is much muddier in appearance that the relatively neat, if drab, siskin. Its tail is broader and its wings are shorter (logically enough: House Finches are mostly sedentary, while Pine Siskins are given to nomadism). The ground color of the body is brown rather than off-white, and the dark eye is large, giving the bird a distinctly different “face” than the beady-eyed little siskin. House Finches also have large, rather squarish heads, while siskins look like they would buy their hats in the kids’ department. And the bill shapes are completely different. Think about it this way: if a siskin wanted to hurt you, it would stab you; if a House Finch was intent on harm, it would bite, putting to good use a thick, hooked bill with a strongly curved culmen.
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