The Carduelis genus -featuring the Siskin

Carduelis is a genus of small birds of the family Fringillidae and the order Passeriformes { perching birds} of which we have  some familiar species here in the UK. The common goldfinch and the siskin may be considered the standard. However, the genus contains several species and the form, in one way or another, appears to range pretty generally all over the globe, although the distribution of each species separately are much more limited.

They are regarded as the most "typical" of all finches. that is to say the various and particular characters that we think of when we think of finches are very observable in this particular genus than any other. The bill is conical and deep and drawn to a very fine point, the nostrils hidden by bristles. The wings are a mean length, the tail rather short and in general slightly forked. the legs are slender and short. The claws are curved and acute. 

Thus the Carduelis may be placed in two groups which are distinguishable by a slight diversity in form and habit and by a different style of colouring.  The species of one group typified by the gold finch in this country which are commonly referred to as the " goldfinches", those of the other group, which are more numerous, of which the siskin is the typical example.

The colour of the former is bright and eye catching contrasting with the back and under parts which shades of into a white or paler hue. The wings are marked with black and white and brilliant yellow, and the head richly adorned with crimson or scarlet, and in some species with black. the sexes are similar and their plumage more tropical, and, after the autumnal  moult they have no deciduous terminal edges to their feathers.

There habits too, are less arboreal, the different species passing their time nearer the ground, and subsisting chiefly on seeds of thistles and the seeds  of other Asteraceae species of plants.The thistles on which they feed gave this group of birds their generic name of Carduelis from carduus -a thistle. The are birds of low country and those resident throughout the year, familiar in their habits, building intricately constructed nests gardens and orchards and cheering us winter and summer, with their sprightly,animated and pleasing songs.

The siskins on the other hand are inhabitants more of the northern pine forests and of more elevated districts, although during the winter months they descend and straggle in flocks over the low country. The plumage corresponds, the colouring of the more typical species not being so bright.Their wings,as can be expected, from their more migratory habits, are longer in proportion than in the "goldfinches" and their bills are adapted to feed on seeds of various trees as for example spruce,pine and during the winter alder and birch.

The goldfinch can be viewed in greater detail by clicking on the content banner--Goldfinch and Chaffinch-on the right hand side of this page. here we review the American goldfinch for this species is intermediate between the goldfinches and siskins.. 

American goldfinches

Photograph courtesy of Chesi Hornbaker

The summer plumage of the American goldfinch is a bright yellow fading into white towards the rump.The crown of the head is black, as are the wings and tail,the former edged and tipped with white. The female is of a dull olive brown marked with dull white and yellowish. The male in winter attire is very similar. Its habits correspond with those of the common European goldfinch.

THE SISKIN-Carduelis spinosa

Siskins are social birds producing a pleasant alchemy of twitters and trills, they are acrobatic feeders and will visit garden feeders. It is closely related to its north American cousin the Pine siskin C. pinus. Sisikins often flock with redpolls.

The male siskin has a plumage of mainly yellowish green that is streaked much darker, they have a yellow rump and black chin and crown.The hen and juvenile are much less yellow and more streaked with no black on the head. The tail is forked, the legs and stout bill are dark brown. Adult birds are 12 cm long with a wingspan of 22 cm. They weigh about 15 g.

In spring the males compete aggressively for the females. Once the ritual is over and the a pair has bonded they construct a nest high in a conifer tree and it is always well concealed. It is made of twigs and moss lined with fibres and hairs. The eggs are hardly distinguishable from those of the goldfinch being bluish or greenish white with reddish or purplish brown markings and number five to six. These are incubated by the female for 12-13 days.The chicks are born blind and helpless. They are fed,like most species of birds at this stage , with invertebrates which are very nourishing enabling the chicks to grow quickly and strong. They fledge at around 15 days. The adults feed on spruce and pine seeds. Two broods are normally raised.

The siskin normally nests in the high country of northern England with Cumbria, north Lancashire, north Yorkshire, Northumberland and County Durham being well known for breeding birds. However, this year I have had a report from one of the members of this site, that siskins have bred in south west Lancashire. This is much further south than one would expect to find breeding siskins. Is this a sign that the birds are happy to nest further south if conditions are favourable or is this pair unique breeding so far south ? time will tell. 

Two Juveniles that were born in South west Lancashire

Photograph courtesy of Frank Dawber

Male siskin-

Photograph courtesy of Frank Dawber

Female siskin

Photograph courtesy of Frank Dawber

Conservation issues--Courtesy of the BTO

Siskins are on the Green list of conservation concern where they have been placed since 1996.This means there are no current conservation concerns.

In summer there was an estimated 357,000 territories in 2000.

Europe it is not a species of concern. 

 The Gaelic name for the siskin is gealag bhidhe

Welsh--Pila gwyrdd


UK conservation status 2021

UK- Green List. No current conservation concerns.

Europe-  species of least concern. 

Reuse of images.

The images on this page may be reused. However, the name of the relevant author must be attributed along with any accompanying license.