Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

Siskins are common resident Finches with lemon-yellow plumage, long, narrow curved bills (quite typical among Fringillidae) and forked tails. Their striped appearance is what distinguishes them from similar-looking garden birds, especially the Greenfinch (see below), and they are, in fact, one of the smallest Finches in the UK: weighing in at approximately 15g, they are smaller than Goldfinches, but weigh almost the same. Males can be distinguished from females by their black crowns; young Siskins develop from a plumage of mainly brown colour.

A hybrid Siskin and Redpoll. Siskins are known to crossbreed with a number of species, including canaries.


They are considerably active birds with agile, energetic movements, not dissimilar to Blue tits. Listen for their attractive song and you’ll notice a “tilu”, “tilu” call, which is sweet and harmonious, especially when a flock of Siskins are gathered together in a forest area, their preferred location.

According to the RSPB, Siskins are classified as Green Status, meaning they are not under any threat. Globally, there is a vast Siskin population, and in the UK alone there are around 369,000 breeding pairs.

One interesting behaviour is their sometimes cross-breeding with other birds, specifically canaries – although this has been influenced by humans while the birds have been in captivity. The picture showcased here is from birdinfo.co.uk where you can see for yourselves a number of different “Siskin crosses”.

In the UK, Siskins are resident all year round, although mainly located in Scotland and Wales. Many Siskins appear in the UK from colder Scandinavian countries and spend the winter in predominantly the south east of Britain. Being nomadic in nature, they very rarely keep to the same breeding and feeding locations, preferring instead to relocate or simply move on to the next most convenient location.

What does “Siskin” mean?

Carduelis is a genus attributed to a number of birds in the Finch, or Fringillidae, family; more specifically, Carduelis is the name for a Goldfinch. Here are three garden birds with the Latinate Carduelis.

According to Wikipedia, the term Spinus is derived from the Ancient Greek word Spinos, which relates to a now unknown species of bird. As for English, this originates from the German “sisschen” or “zeischen”, which is almost directly translatable to “Siskin”.

The Siskin has also be called a black-headed goldfinch and barley bird, although these terms are increasingly rare in the UK.

Can Siskins be affected by Trichomonosis?

Despite their similarity in appearance to Greenfinches, Siskins are nowhere near as susceptible to Trichonomosis, a deadly disease responsible for the relatively recent reduction in Greenfinch population across the UK. It is still important, though, to follow reasonable hygiene precautions when dealing with feeders in your garden. See our article on Essential Hygiene for feeding birds.

What do Siskins eat?

Siskins eat seeds mainly from conifers, alders and birches, and they are known sometimes to eat insects, but only if they are available. As is the case with many birds in the UK, hard frosts can render insects inaccessible over winter, and therefore birds like Siskins will readily take seeds from a variety of sources, including feeders. Because of their preference for conifer trees, and due to the recent trend of planting conifers around the UK, Siskins have developed a wider range than they would have had prior to this activity.

Interestingly, you will find that Siskins don’t often visit garden spaces, but will do so if food is in short supply in their local habitats. Usually, by feeding other more common garden birds you will have a chance to attract Siskins.


“It is after the new year that Siskins begin to be reported in increasing numbers in gardens,” BTO.

What is the difference between a Greenfinch and a Siskin?

Siskins are sometimes confused with Greenfinches, which is understandable because they do appear much alike. Their bills are almost identical, as is the colour of their plumage, yet Siskins are more streaked than Greenfinches, have sharper forked tails, and their crowns are black (*just males have black crowns, and therefore there’s a greater chance of confusing female Siskins with Greenfinches).

Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris

Greenfinch – Carduelis chloris

Siskin - Carduelis spinus

Siskin – Carduelis spinus

Try the interactive Siskin

Attract Siskins with the following food

Ultiva® Gold

This hugely popular bird seed mix has been at the forefront of GardenBird for many years. A top seller, the inspiration came from a missing link in the bird food chain – a blend focused on oil-rich ingredients.

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Wild Bird Sunflower Hearts

These highly nutritious and oil-rich sunflower hearts for wild birds come without the husks of complete sunflower seeds. Specially treated to prevent any extraneous growth in the garden, sunflower hearts are a sure favourite among many different garden bird species.

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Premium Dried Mealworm

Dried mealworms are the perfect nutritional food for your garden birds. Ideal for attracting species such as Blue tits, Starlings and Blackbirds, dried mealworms can be soaked in water over night for an extra juicy treat for your birds. Or, simply place on a flat bird table feeder or on the garden floor for attracting ground-feeding birds.

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Ultiva® Perfect 10

Variety is the spice of life, they say, so this premium bird seed mix was developed with a few things in mind: a good dose of energy with nutritious ingredients such as sunflower hearts, and a peppering of over ten other types of seed and grain.

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