What the birds were

These definitive answers to the mystery birds shown in today’s post come from my colleague Steve Pruett-Jones, who knows his birds. His answers (I’ve added the species names):

The yellowish bird [bird #1] is a Pine Warbler, Setophaga pinus. (I had originally thought it was a yellow warbler because in certain plumages these two species are similar).

The other bird [bird #2] is a Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus: what a great name!)


  1. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    OK, so I looked it up in my Tekiela, and they are two different species.

    The pine siskin you identify is Spinus pinus. The one here is Carduelis pinus. L

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure they’re actually separate species – Wikipedia tells me those scientific names are synonymous. Offhand, I know the American goldfinch was recently reclassified into the genus Spinus from Carduelis, so the same thing might have happened to the pine siskin.

      I suspect a combination of camera angle/lighting and individual plumage variation accounts for the difference you’re seeing, because I can’t find any source that says there are two separate eastern and western pine siskin species.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      No, there’s only one species, Linda. The different generic names represent different taxonomic assignments at different times. When I started birding in the 70s, siskins were considered to constitute a distinct genus, Spinus, and the Pine Siskin was Spinus pinus.

      Then, I think back in the 90s, Spinus was merged into the genus Carduelis, and the Pine Siskin became Carduelis pinus, but placed in the subgenus Spinus.

      Still later on (in 2009), based largely on mitochondrial DNA evidence, the siskins were once again recognized as generically distinct, and the subgenus Spinus was re-elevated to generic rank.

      This kind of thing happens all the time. Taxonomy isn’t static, and taxonomists–creative bunch that they are–are constantly developing new techniques to bring to bear on the thornier questions.

      • Dominic
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:22 am | Permalink

        Good. I like Spinus pinus as a name – for its homophony!

        • Pete Moulton
          Posted February 15, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

          Me too, Dominic!

      • Linda Grilli Calhoun
        Posted February 15, 2013 at 3:53 am | Permalink

        Thank you for the information.

        Their plumage really does look different, though. The ones here are darker, with very distinct wing bars. L

        • Pete Moulton
          Posted February 15, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink

          If you’re in a more westerly area, that’s probably true, Linda. There’s a fair amount of geographical variation.

          • Linda Grilli Calhoun
            Posted February 15, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

            I’m in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains in NM. The siskins and their buddies, the juncos, summer on the mountaintops and winter in the foothills.

            They usually arrive at my feeders en masse in late November or early December, and they leave in a group, too. I always await their absence – a sure sign of spring.

            Thank you again for all the information. If you want a good picture of what I’m seeing, try Peterson or Tekiela. Both books have good pix. L

  2. MaryL
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    There are bald eagles nesting near my home and I’ve had a great time lately watching the “eagle cam” in the tree above the nest. There are two health youngsters keeping their parents busy.

    If you’re interested, you can Google ‘eagle cam” and “North Fort Myers”.

    • Dominic
      Posted February 15, 2013 at 2:25 am | Permalink

      Thanks! I forget sometimes that the continental US is big enough to reach the tropics where it is possible to nest in the ‘winter’!

  3. Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Spinus Pinus sounds like something the Monty Python team might have dreamed up.

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