Pine Siskin vs Goldfinch: How to Tell the Difference

Pine siskins and goldfinches are similar small birds in the finch family. 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

Pine siskins look similar to sparrows but are in the finch family. 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. 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.

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pine siskinCourtesy Heather McIlravey

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. Its streaky brown appearance might suggest a sparrow, but it’s 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 bird feeders for thistle (Nyjer) seeds.

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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 goldfinches often include a few pine siskins and sometimes even redpolls, so scan those groups closely!

Learn how to attract more goldfinches to your backyard.

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Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.