Pine Siskin vs Goldfinch: How to Tell the Difference

Updated: Jan. 21, 2022

Pine siskins are small birds in the finch family that look like sparrows. Learn how to tell the difference between pine siskin vs goldfinch.

pine siskin vs goldfinchCourtesy Kathryn Kauth
Pine siskin

How to Tell the Difference: Pine Siskin vs Goldfinch

Goldfinches and pine siskins often flock together and share similar characteristics. But the trick to identification for a pine siskin vs goldfinch is to look for the sparrowy streaks on the pine siskin’s cream colored breast.

goldfinchCourtesy John Vanbrocklin
Male American goldfinch

American goldfinches do not have these streaks. You may spot flashes of goldfinch-like yellow as pine siskins flutter from branch to branch, sometimes hanging upside down, picking seeds from pine cones or wild sunflowers. Add a sharp, slender bill to the finchlike size and shape, and you’ve got a pine siskin.

Learn how to attract more goldfinches to your backyard.

goldfinch in winterCourtesy Christy Brucks
American goldfinch in winter

In spring and summer, male American goldfinches are vibrant yellow birds that clearly stand out in the backyard. Females are a duller yellow color. However, in winter, the male goldfinches molt from summer gold to winter brown plumage, making it a bit more tricky to identify them. Flocks of winter finches often include a few pine siskins and sometimes even common redpolls, so scan those groups closely!

Meet the 3 types of goldfinches in the United States.

pine siskinCourtesy Heather McIlravey
Pine siskin

Pine Siskin vs Sparrow

I saw this bird (above) in late May. What is it, and was it just passing through? Heather McIlravey of Severn Bridge, Ontario.

Kenn and Kimberly: That visitor is a pine siskin. Pine siskins look similar to sparrows but are in the finch family. Its streaky brown appearance might suggest a sparrow, but this species is actually a close relative of the goldfinches. You could think of it as a goldfinch in camouflage. The fine dark streaks on its sides, the relatively plain face, and the narrow, sharply pointed bill are all helpful ID marks. A few pine siskins may stay through the summer in your part of Ontario, but most go a little farther north. American goldfinches are common in backyards all year round. Whether they’re staying or just passing through, both of these birds will come to finch feeders for thistle (Nyjer) seeds.

Next, check out 7 types of finch birds to look for in winter, and learn where you can find a rosy finch.