Spinus pinus pinus
Status: Common regular erratic spring and fall migrant statewide. Uncommon regular erratic breeder west, rare casual elsewhere. Common regular erratic winter visitor statewide.
Breeding and migration
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM7161, 6 Feb 1897 Lincoln, Lancaster Co.
Taxonomy: Four subspecies are recognized, two weakly-differentiated subspecies breeding north of Mexico: vagans, breeding and wintering from southern Saskatchewan to Alberta and south to California and west Texas, and pinus, breeding from Saskatchewan to Newfoundland and Maine, wintering to south Texas and Florida (Pyle 1997). Gill and Donsker (2017), Clements et al (2016), and Dawson (2020) synonymized vagans and pinus.
Ruth Green banded two forms at NNF Bessey, Thomas Co in May 2002; a smaller “form” (wing chord of females 66-69 and for males 70-73) with bright yellow wingbars and a larger “form” (wing chord average 77) with large, pale wingbars. Based on measurements in Pyle (1997) and Dawson (2020), the large “form” is at the upper end of, but within, wing size measurements for vagans/pinus. Pyle (1997) does note that differences in the amounts of yellow in wings and tail need further study relative to age and sex.
Two very pale, perhaps leucistic, birds were with over 100 normal Pine Siskins at a feeder near Mitchell, Scotts Bluff Co during winter 2004-2005.
Spring: winter <<<>>> Jun 4, 7, 7
Later dates are 11 Jun 1978 Lancaster Co, 11 Jun 2020 Ponca SP, Dixon Co, 14 Jun 2016 Otoe Co, 9-15 Jun 2011 Lancaster Co, 8-15 Jun 2019 Lancaster Co, 17 Jun 2020 Douglas Co, 9-26 Jun 2019 Madison Co, 27 Jun 2009 Douglas Co, and 1-29 Jun 2019 (4 on 10 Jun) Douglas Co.
Departure of most birds wintering in Nebraska outside of the Pine Ridge breeding range is generally complete by late May. There are, however, a number of Jun reports (later dates, above) which may be of birds that nested; these birds generally depart the nest location by the end of Jun (see Summer). Numbers of Pine Siskins in the state are fewest Jul-Aug (eBird.org, accessed Jan 2021).
Summer: This species is a marginal breeder in Nebraska. Dawson (2020) concluded that “establishment of conifers and other trees and shrubs outside of the normal ranges of this bird may help explain why it breeds beyond traditional areas, at least during the 20th century and particularly in the Midwest and Great Plains”. Thus, it appears that breeding occurs sporadically even in Panhandle pinewoods since the regular breeding range extends only barely and irregularly into Nebraska (Dawson 2020). Breeding occurs in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Tallman et al 2002) and in the Laramie Mountains of Wyoming (Faulkner 2010). The species is, however, prone to nest on occasion anywhere in Nebraska, especially after winters of high numbers, and, indeed, there may be more actual nesting reports away from the Panhandle than within the Panhandle, although such occurrences rarely lead to ongoing breeding.
Currently, breeding probably occurs most years in the Pine Ridge, the Wildcat Hills of Scotts Bluff and Banner Cos, and the Bighorn Escarpment of Banner and Morrill Cos, where there are Jun-Jul reports in most years since 1963, although nesting has not been documented. On the Pine Ridge, Rosche (1982) called it a “fairly common summer resident… Breeds. Highly erratic and irregular, particularly summer numbers…”. It appears that Pine Siskin has become a somewhat regular breeder on the Pine Ridge only this century, as Bruner et al (1904) listed it as a migrant and winter visitor only; oddly, Swenk (1929) stated that the first record of nesting for the state was in Sarpy Co in 1904. Two adult females with active brood patches were collected in Jul 1957 west of Crawford in Sioux Co (Ford 1959). Rapp et al (1958) listed it as an uncommon to rare resident on the Pine Ridge. Similarly, at NNF Bessey, Thomas Co it was listed as a “permanent resident” in 1993, with sightings 2 Jul-7 Sep, and was considered a “common permanent resident” by Bray (1994),
There are numerous scattered records of irregular breeding throughout the state; older records were cited by Swenk (1929) and Ducey (1988) and a Lancaster Co nesting was studied by Perry (1965). A recent breeding record was of a pair with a newly-fledged young bird on the Union College Campus, Lincoln, Lancaster Co 19 May 2018. Breeding occurred in Omaha, Douglas Co in 2020, where two begging juveniles accompanied adults to feeders; siskins had been present since mid-Jan, adults were last seen 14 Jun, and juveniles lingered until 24 Jun. These sporadic statewide breeding records generally occur after large influxes of Pine Siskins in the previous winter, usually occur rather early, and the birds involved usually depart early. It is often difficult to detect whether breeding occurred because the fledged young are mobile often before the last wintering birds depart. Most nestings followed major influxes during the winters of 1959-1960, 1975-1976, 1977-1978, 1984-1985, 2004-2005, and 2007-2008; compare with CBC data below (see Winter). Latest departure dates following such nestings are from Lancaster Co in 1978 and 1985 when birds were last seen 10 and 15 Jun respectively, and adults were feeding young in Cheyenne Co 25 Jun 2008. There had been a small nesting population on the campus of University of Nebraska-Kearney at Kearney, Buffalo Co for several years through about 2003 (Lanny Randolph, Robin Harding, pers. comm.), and at Doane College in Crete, Saline Co since at least 2003 (Mark Orsag, pers. comm.). Several individuals with brood patches and two juveniles were netted in Keith Co 9 Jun-21 Jul 1993 (Scharf et al 1993) and in 1994 juveniles were netted 17-21 Jun as well as 17 females with brood patches 9 Jun-4 Jul (Brown et al 1996); Scharf et al (1993) noted that their study “strongly suggests that this species may have bred.”
- Breeding phenology:
- Nest building: 19 Mar-16 May
Nestlings: 14 May
Fledglings: 29 Apr-25 Jun
Fall: Sep 4, 4, 5 <<<>>> winter (east)
Earlier dates in the east are 12 Jul 2018 Cuming Co, 1 Aug 1998 (2) Cass Co, 20 Aug 2019 Ponca SP, Dixon Co, 31 Aug 2019 Douglas Co, and 2-3 Sep 2019 Lancaster Co.
Movement becomes noticeable in Sep, although there are earlier reports Jul-Aug which are likely dispersers from breeding locations in or near Nebraska; individuals known to have bred locally generally depart by late Jun (see Summer). According to Dawson (2020), “wanderings appear superimposed on migratory movements of a varying fraction of the population.” Peak numbers, although highly variable, generally occur in Nebraska in late Oct-Nov. Johnsgard (1980) noted that half of the fall records analyzed were in the period 1 Oct-18 Nov.
- High counts: 470 at Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co 20 Nov 2020, 160 at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 2 Oct 2020, 143 at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co 30 Nov 1998, 100 in Omaha, Douglas Co 26 Nov 2012, and 100 at Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co 28 Oct 2018.
- 495 were banded at Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co 26 Aug-9 Oct 2020.
Winter: Pine Siskins winter statewide in varying numbers from year to year; winter 2012-2013 saw larger numbers than usual, with about 1040 reported statewide, and 552 counted on the Branched Oak Lake-Seward CBC 16 Dec and 196 on the Scottsbluff CBC 15 Dec. The winters of 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 also had very high numbers; in 2019-2020 about 980 birds in fall and 840 during winter (Dec-Feb), and in 2020-2021 about 1465 in fall (Aug-Nov), an amazing 4013 in winter, and 1958 in spring (Mar-May).
CBC data since 1940 show the highest totals as 1193 birds in 2012-2013, 958 in 2007-2008, and 950 in 1987-1988. For the years 1940-2015, all but seven years yielded birds per party-hour <2.25; the peak years were 1945-1946 at 2.94, 1946-1947 at 3.48, 1960-1961 at 3.36, 1973-1974 at 3.58, 1987-1988 at 3.71, highest on record, 2007-2008 at 2.46, and 2012-2013 at 2.55.
- High counts: 405 at Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co 3 Mar 2021, 300 in Keith Co 8 Jan 1982 (Rosche 1994), 300 in Scotts Bluff Co 8 Feb, 270 at Wildcat Hills NC 13 Apr 2019, and 250 there 7 Mar 2015.
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
NC: Nature Center
NNF: Nebraska National Forest
Photograph (top) of a Pine Siskin at Neale Woods, Douglas Co 25 Feb 2009 by Phil Swanson.
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Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
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Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.
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Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska. Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.
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Birds of Nebraska – Online
Updated 11 Jun 2021