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Black-headed Siskin Spinus notatus

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Fringillidae
  • Polytypic: 3 subspecies
  • Authors: Marîa Félix Ramos-Ordoñez, Claudia I. Rodríguez-Flores, Carlos A. Soberanes-González, Marîa del Coro Arizmendi, and Thomas S. Schulenberg


Distinguishing Characteristics

All species of siskin (Spinus) are small cardueline finches with a yellow (or, in one species, red) band across the wing, and a sharply pointed bill; most species of siskin also are predominately yellow and olive, the males having a black cap or hood. Black-headed Siskin is a typical member of the genus. The male has a black hood, covering the crown, sides of the head, throat and upper breast. The upperparts are pale olive; the wings are mostly black, with a yellow wing bar, and yellow band across the bases of the remiges; and the tail is mostly black, with a yellow base. The underparts are yellow. Females are duller than the males.

Similar Species

Black-headed Siskin is the only species of siskin within its range that is predominately yellow or that has a black hood. Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) has a yellow throat, a smaller and white (not yellow) patch on the wing; also, the males of most populations of Lesser Goldfinch (except in northwestern Mexico) are black above, not olive.

Detailed Description

The following description is based on Ridgway (1901) and Howell and Webb (1995), and refers to nominate notatus; see also Geographic Variation:

Adult male: Head and upper breast black. Nape, back and scapulars yellowish olive green, the feathers with black central spots (which sometimes are mostly concealed and inconspicuous). Rump yellow. Uppertail coverts. Central pair of rectrices black; outer rectrices black, with basal half lemon yellow. Wings black, with bright lemon yellow tips to greater coverts (forming a yellow wing bar) and bases to the remiges. Underparts (posterior to the black throat) deep yellow.

Adult female: Similar to adult male, but duller, with yellow areas of the wings and tail less extensive.

Immature: Head and upperparts olive, slightly paler on the rump. Wings blackish, patterned as in adult. Rectrices blackish, bases of outer rectrices edged yellow. Underparts (including throat) dirty pale yellow.

Juvenile: Similar to immature but underparts washed with buff; wingbar buff.


Very little information, apart from observations in Guallar et al. (2010). The postjuvenile (preformative) molt involves ca most of the body plumage and, to a variable extent, the wing coverts, or may be almost complete. The complete molt of the adults is initiated at the end of August or beginning of September, and in concluded by the end of November or the beginning of December.

Bare Parts

Iris: brown

Bill: blue gray

Tarsi and toes: gray

Bare parts color data from Howell and Webb (1995), and from specimens in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.


Total length: 10.2-11.5 cm (Ridgway 1901), 11-11.5 cm (Howell and Webb 1995)

Linear measurements (from Ridgway 1901; museum specimens):

male, notatus (n = 8)

wing length, mean 63.75 mm (range 60.96-67.56 mm)

tail length, mean 39.12 mm (range 35.56-42.16 mm)

bill length (exposed culmen), mean 11.43 mm (range 10.92-12.19 mm)

tarsus length, mean 12.95 mm (range 12.45-13.21 mm)

female, notatus (n = 3)

wing length, mean 62.48 mm (range 60.71-64.01 mm)

tail length, mean 37.85 mm (range 36.32-39.88 mm)

bill length (exposed culmen), mean 10.92 mm (range 10.41-11.18 mm)

tarsus length, mean 12.95 mm (range 12.70-13.46 mm, n = 2)

Linear measurements (from Guallar et al. 2010; live specimens):


wing length, mean 67.17 ± 0.91 mm (range 66-69 mm, n = 20)

tail length, mean 42.17 ± 0.75 mm (range 41-43 mm, n = 6)

bill length (from base), mean 13.98 ± 0.41 mm (range 13.4-14.5 mm, n = 5)

tarsus length, mean 13.20 plus ± 0.14 mm (range 13.1-13.3 mm, n = 2)


wing length, mean 65.58 ± 1.19 mm (range 63.5-68 mm, n = 13)

tail length, mean 41.50 ± 0.63 mm (range 41-42.5 mm, n = 6)

bill length (from base), mean 13.20 ± 0.68 mm (range 12.0-13.9 mm, n = 6)

tarsus length, mean 13.20 plus ± 0.14 mm (range 13.1-13.3 mm, n = 2)


male, mean 11.63 ± 0.78 g (range 10.4-13.7 g, n = 18; Guallar et al. 2010);

female, mean 11.03 ± 0.64 g (range 10.0-12.0 g, n = 12; Guallar et al. 2010)

Recommended Citation

Ramos-Ordoñez, M. F., C. I. Rodríguez-Flores, C. A. Soberanes-González, M. d. C. Arizmendi, and T. S. Schulenberg (2013). Black-headed Siskin (Spinus notatus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.