Black Siskin

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Antonio Arnaiz-Villena

Is the Black Siskin right for you?

Species group:

Other common names:

Scientific name: Carduelis atrata

The basics:
The Black Siskin is an attractive South American songbird related to the much better known European Goldfinch. Like its cousin, this bird is capable of a strong song with plenty of trills.

This siskin is easily found at elevations from around 3,500 to 4,000 meters in its Andes mountain habitat in the puna grasslands above the treeline. The bird is not shy and can be found feeding on the ground, sometimes around villages or roads.

The eye-catching Black Siskin is a deep black bird with a colorful yellow vent, yellow edging around the tail, and startling yellow wing flashes that show in flight. As a result of this interesting pattern, this beautiful bird shows much better in flight cages or aviaries than in smaller breeding cages. The males are usually somewhat brighter.

17 - 19 grams (0.6 - 0.67 oz.)

Average size:
10 - 13 centimeters (4 - 5 in.)

15 - 20 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Black Siskin is a good singer that gets along well with other species in a spacious planted aviary. However, watch out for seasonal aggression if you plan to breed the birds, as they may attack rivals of their own species. There don't seem to be any reports of males attacking other black and yellow birds but they themselves might be attacked by species like male Cuban Finches that are triggered by this particular color scheme. However, with a little care, you should be able to set up a flight where everyone gets along.

Because the Black Siskin's plumage shows best in flight, it would be a shame to house these birds in anything other than a long flight or aviary. As a bird of the puna, it may enjoy some access to sunlight but it should never be allowed to become severely overheated. It's actually a grassland species, but some very attractive flights can be designed for these birds which include branches of pine trees, as well as planted grasses and other bird-safe vegetation.

As a bird of the high Andes, the Black Siskin should not be fed the same high fat, high niger diet consumed by the European Goldfinch – a mistake made by older European breeders that resulted in the death of the over-fed birds. They should have a leaner and varied small seed finch mix with more emphasis placed on high carb rather than high-fat seeds . In other words, provide more millet, and just a touch of thistle and canary seed. The seeds should be fresh enough to sprout, and you should provide clean sprouts, milky seeding heads of grasses, and healthy greens like dark lettuces, chickweed, and dandelion. Some breeders do offer some live food while the young are in the nest, but others do not.

Written by Elaine Radford

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