Siskin

Siskins love conifer forests, especially the ones in Northern Scotland. They are a high-viz bird, like the Yellowhammer, with a distinctive black stripe on their heads to make it easy to tell them apart.

Siskins are a tiny, slender finch, smaller than a Greenfinch. They are a streaky yellowish green with a short, distinctly forked tail that has yellow edges. They have a yellow rump and yellow wing bars. The male has a black bib and crown. The female is greyer and more streaked than the male. Their flight is light and bouncy. They have several calls. A loud “tsuu!”, a ringing “tszing”, and a sweet twittering that ends with a wheeze like a Greenfinch.

They eat pine, birch, and alder seeds and, at a push, will enjoy peanuts from a bird feeder. They feed near the tops of tress and are very agile, hanging on thinnest of twigs to reach their food. They also eat insects in the summer.

Siskins will nest in early spring where there is a good crop of spruce seeds. If these are in short supply, they will delay nesting until May. The female builds a cup-shaped nest from conifer twigs, grass, heather, and moss. She lays 3-5 eggs, which she incubates until they hatch12 days later. Both mum and dad will feed the youngsters who can fly after 13 days. There are usually 2 broods.

They are a common resident with 400,000 pairs in Britain, though concentrated in Scotland where there are a lot of conifer forests. They can form large flocks in winter. They are seen in the rest of the Britain as a winter visitor when northern birds move south and others come over from Europe. The planting of commercial conifer forests has certainly helped the Siskin.

Their Latin name is ’carduelis spinus’ where ’spinus’ is from the Ancient Greek ’spinos’, a name for a now-unidentifiable bird, and ’carduelis’ is Latin for ‘goldfinch’. That makes an unidentified bird a bit like a Goldfinch (which it is not). Some scientists need glasses. The English name is derived from the German ’sisschen’ or ’zeischen’.

Garden Warbler

The Garden Warbler is remarkable by being unremarkable. It does not have a single marking that makes it distinct. A genuine little brown job. Despite its name, it does not like gardens, preferring to hide in woodland edges where the undergrowth is thickest. He makes up for his bland looks by singing a beautiful song.

The Garden Warbler is the size of a Great Tit with plain brown upperparts, a gentle face with no obvious markings, and paler brown underparts. Their song is very similar to a Blackcap’s. An energetic 3-8 second steady stream of melodic phrases made up of mellow sounds and scratchy notes. The contact call is a sharp “check”.

They eat insects in summer, especially juicy caterpillars, and fuel-up on berries and fruit during migration. They are particularly partial to figs, which they eat as they pass through the Mediterranean, in their cool shades, on the way back to Africa in August.

Garden warblers first breed when they are one year old, and are mainly monogamous. Once they arrive in April or May, the male will build a number of simple nests (cock's nests) to show off to his potential mate, whom he attracts to his territory by singing. His nests are fairly rubbish and only rarely will the female complete the structure, usually starting afresh. She builds the cup-shaped nest in low bushes and lays 4-5 eggs. These hatch after 11 days. The youngsters hatch naked, with no feathers, and with their eyes closed. Mum and dad feed them until, fully feathered, they are ready to leave the nest 10 days later. The youngsters stay with mum and dad for 2 weeks. Sadly, only about a quarter of young birds survive their first year. Predators include Sparrowhawks and the nests are also favoured targets for Cuckoos.

There are 170,000 pairs widespread throughout Britain, but rare in Scotland and urban areas. Their population fluctuates a lot, but with no obvious up or down trend. The threat to Garden Warblers are changes to habitat on their migration route to Southern and Central Africa caused by global warming. Unlike many birds, The Garden Warbler moults mainly when in Africa to be spic and span for when they return in spring.

Their Latin name ’sylvia borin’ which sounds like boring Silvia for being so bland. It is derived from the Latin ’silvia’ for a woodland nymph and ’borin’ a local name for the bird in the Genoa area of Italy that comes from the Latin ’bos’ for ‘ox’ as the warbler was believed to accompany oxen. Cow fairy is almost as bad.