• This delightful, small finch is a marked contrast to the Red-backed Shrike, showing a tremendous expansion in breeding areas and numbers of birds.

    The bill of this green, yellow and black bird is very sharp and narrow for a finch, well adapted for removing pine seeds from cones. It is the increase in mature forest that has led to the spread and increase in numbers of breeding birds.

    During the breeding season, they can be fairly difficult to see, but it is during the winter that they become very apparent. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the UK breeding population is enhanced by an influx of birds from the continent, moving to warmer climes during the colder season. Even UK birds move southwards, and our own local populations are enlarged by birds from northern England and Scotland. At this time of year, the birds move around in large feeding flocks and are very noticeable, if only from their 'buzzy' calls. As well as pine seeds, they will be found feeding on silver birch and alder seeds. The second reason for their being easy to see in winter is that in the early 1960s, they discovered peanuts hung out for birds in gardens. This has since become an important food for them when natural foods are scarce. They can be attracted to gardens very easily throughout the winter months by putting out some peanuts, especially in one of the red, plastic mesh bags. By early March, the birds are getting ready to return to their breeding grounds in the UK or on the continent, and need high energy foods for the journey. Fat-rich peanuts act as an excellent supplement, and large numbers of birds move through garden areas, feeding up. The peak in numbers in gardens is usually during the second half of March, but if there is plenty of natural food, numbers requiring the supplementary diet will be less. It is always difficult to tell how many birds may be using your garden as a food source, as individuals look the same. Studies with ringed birds has shown the several hundred different Siskins may be using the average garden in Santon Downham during the last two weeks of March, even though there may only be two to three at any one time.

    Because we have our own breeding population in the forest, Siskins can be seen every month of the year.