Siskins are small members of the Finch family. A few stay on Skye all year round, but most migrate to the south of the UK for the winter before returning here to breed. For the last three years Waternish has welcomed one particular female Siskin. When she first arrived on a bird feeder in the garden of Nurses Cottage, Hallin in May 2008, the number on the tiny ring on her right leg was read (over 3 days by telescope) and the number sent to the British Trust for Ornithology. From their data we know she was ringed in Highley, Shropshire (over 600km away) in February 2006 as a 2 year old. A few ringed Siskin turn up every year, mostly unreported due to the difficulty in reading the rings on live (and lively!) birds.
Next April she returned to the same feeder in the same garden. Once again the ring was read and the 7 digit number matched. Presumably she had returned to Shropshire for the winter and back to Waternish to breed.
After a few weeks she disappeared. Small birds have correspondingly short lives and dangers abound. We feared the worst.
Then, on March 25th 2010, two ringed Siskin appeared on the feeder along with four others. The process of trying to decipher the rings began again. Two days later we had a new ring number, also a female, and bits of the other one. Two more days after that we had all that number too, and it was our original bird! She had survived the particularly harsh winter and returned for a third summer.
As I write this she is devouring seed in the garden, building up strength for another breeding season. We wish her many happy returns. Another ringed Siskin, a male this time, has been seen locally, but no luck on the number so far. The BTO will be informed of the sightings as usual. Live bird data from small birds is rare, due to the difficulty of reading rings, so every report is important.
Waternish may be better known for it’s Great Northern Divers and White-Tailed Eagles, but one common finch has a special attraction too. Garden birds are a delight any time, but one with a story is special.