We are getting lots of calls from people about Pine Siskins at their feeders and concerns ranging from spread of disease to frustration with the sheer volume of seed that these little birds eat. Here are the answers to some of the questions we are hearing.
Why are there so many Pine Siskins this year? - It's an irruption year. Each year, Georgia has a few eBird reports of Pine Siskins, but every few years we have an irruption year and large numbers of siskins migrate to Georgia for the winter. Long story short, it's primarily linked to seed production in pines and other conifers in the boreal forest, but this year Georgia is seeing HUGE numbers of birds.
They are eating me out of house and home. What can I do? - There's not much you can do to discourage these hungry birds, and, as you may have experienced, they can empty your feeders in a matter of minutes. But if you'd like to discourage them, try feeding larger seeds, cracked corn, or even suet. If all else fails, take down your feeders for a few weeks. They should begin dispersing over the next month as they return to their breeding grounds further north. Personally, we prefer to enjoy them while they're here and know that they'll be moving on soon. In the meantime, we’re stocking up on bird food!
I've heard Pine Siskins can spread disease, such as salmonella and finch eye disease. How can I prevent this? - With bird species like Pine Siskins (and House Finches) that travel in large flocks, it is easy for a single sick bird to spread disease to others because of the sheer volume of birds. If you notice an ill siskin or other bird at your feeder (puffy appearance, lethargic, sunken or swollen eyes), the best thing you can do is to take down your feeder, clean it with a mild bleach solution, and keep the feeder down for a few weeks to allow any diseased birds to disperse. Otherwise, just be sure to keep your feeders clean to minimize the spread of bacteria and other diseases that can make birds ill. If you have a sick bird, you can find a list of wildlife rehabilitators on our website.