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The Red Siskin

The Red Siskin

 (Carduelis cucullata)

The Red Siskin comes from a tropical region of South America, Venezuela and Northern Columbia. It is the only Siskin that has natural red coloring in its plumage. Its size is about 4 to 4 1/2 inchs. Since these birds come from a tropical area they will breed several times and the whole year round depending on the food supply. The Red Siskin used to be trapped in large numbers and the reason for this is that when crossed with domestic canaries some of the male offspring proved fertile thus giving colorbred canary breeders a whole pallete of colors to the canary fancy and through selective breeding a new genetically engineered red canary appeared! Currently the Red Siskin is protected and is illegal to capture them from the wild and here in the U.S. we are required a permit either federal or state issued to keep/breed these birds. There used to be captive breeding programs here in the states in the past but I think

it has currently fizzled out. I have seen many European Sites and there seems to be more captive bred Red Siskins in Europe than naturally in the wild!

Identiciation:

Males have a jet black head to throat area resembling a hood,black flights with red wing patches and black tail feathers. It has a white belly and under tail coverts and the rest of the bird is a deep red orange. Females are generally grey with black wings and tail,

whitish belly but does have a splash of red on the chest area,rump and red wing patches. Youngsters are a warm reddish brown with black wing and tail feathers and a slightly colored wing patch. Others prefer not to colorfeed their Siskins but I do colorfeed them as I like to see them in their full potential color. The bill is a grey color and legs/feet a brownish pink coloring.

Female Red Siskin

Voice:

Call is a hig pitched "chweee" or common siskin like "chee chee" they seem to be constantly chattering. Song is a mixture of repeated phrases with some scratchy squeaky twitters and some pinched Goldfinch like notes. My males seem to sing year round even when moulting. I have also noticed that they do mimic birds they are housed close to and I have one or two that have mastered the "kleeeeyip" European Goldfinch call!

Breeding:

If healthy these birds are not shy and you will not have wait long for them to attempt to breed.I have had pretty good success breeding these birds over the past few years of keeping them. Courtship gets pretty rough but needs to be done to drive the hen into condition, if you have a lazy male you end up with clear eggs! The nest is built by the hen and take to small 4 inch open canary nests with a rope lining, never use felt as they pick it apart and gets wrapped around their feet and it ends in losing a leg or toes. The clutch consists of 3-4 whitish eggs with small brown s pots. Incubation is usually 14 days and are banded with size "C" NFSS bands at 7 days old.I have found that most hens stop sitting /warming the youngsters very early around 10-12 days. I think that its because they are normally tropical birds that breed in warm weather and the youngsters are not harmed by cold at that time of year in their natural habitat. Youngsters are fed by both parents and when fledged more so by the male and usually at 35 days of age are safe to transfer them in their own cage,by this time the hen Siskin should be on her 2nd round. I also found there is no need for fosters as they raise their own young just fine. Some males tend to be pests and pull the nests apart,pluck the hens on the nest or eat the eggs so the use of a double breeder with a wire divider is needed at times. I have also found that they like to sleep at the highest spot of the cage so I place the nest up high and also offer an extra high perch for the male,some being more comfortable sleeping while clinging to the cage front up high.

Diet:

I have seen a wide range of diets offered for these birds , some with 80% niger seed others with meat products and fish! and have tried a few thus ended up using a basic canary mix with a few sunflower hearts added and a dry commercial eggfood. They also love soaked/

sprouted seeds during the breeding season ,. I make my own soaked /

sprouted mix with small black sunflower,safflower,rape and a little thistle.They also like romaine lettuce and broccoli florets . With this diet my birds are very healthy and are not delicate needing warmth. My bird room in the winter reaches in the mid 50 degrees F. and they are all happy bouncing along chattering and singing away!

Final:

This interesting little bird that's always cheery has had me scratching my head a couple years ago. In early 2007 I borrowed a male dilute Red Siskin from a good friend and local breeder Tim Roche to add a new bloodline /color into my own stock. I produced one chick from the dilute male and returned the father dilute male back to Tim. Thinking that this was a hen as that is how the canary dilute/pastel works as a sex linked mutation but once it started moulting into a deep red body coloring I knew something was wrong, it couldn't be a female but turned out to be a beautiful male dilute! Contacting a Red Siskin breeder Carmelo Zerafa from Toronto Canada, he explained to me that the dilute factor works completely different in Siskins and yes male dilutes will give you both male and female dilute offspring. This is one bird that I keep learning new information every year and is a shame that not enough people are willing to tackle this breed. Although a tad expensive here in the U.S. its beautiful red plumage, calm cheerful ways with their squeaky little serenade makes you laugh.