Once ranging through Northern South America and parts of the Caribbean, the Red Siskin (Spinus cucullatus), is now critically endangered. This small, brightly colored bird, with a pleasant gold finch like song, has been reduced to just a few hundred birds in Venezuela and Guyana. These fragmented populations are under threat from illegal poaching and habitat loss. This once common seed eating finch inhabits forest edges, open country and grasslands. They form semi nomadic flocks. Along with the expansion of agriculture that reduced its habitat, the bird is illegally trapped for the pet trade. Have you ever seen a Red Factor Canary? The popular canary breed owes its red coloration to the Red Siskin. The male Red Siskin is hybridized with the canary to produce offspring that carry the red coloration. In fact, this is a driving force behind the continued illegal trapping and smuggling of these birds. Although the red gene is fixed in the Red Factor Canary, many breeders are under the false impression that they can get a more intense red if they keep adding male Red Siskins to their breeding programs. This has continued to put pressure on the wild population. In captivity, the Red Siskin has proven far harder to breed then canaries. This difficulty in breeding and the fact that the males are the only birds used to pass on the coloration has led to wild caught birds fulfilling the demand.
When a yellow canary is crossed with a red siskin, it leads to the red color mutation in the canary.
The Red Siskin Initiative (RSI) is a conservation program led by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The program has five main goals, which include, understanding the Red Siskin, breeding more Red Siskins for reintroduction to the wild, connecting with people, protecting habitat, and halting illegal trafficking.
In 2017, APEC began collaborating with RSI. We started off by organizing collaborations between private breeders in aviculture and the organizations participating with RSI. We also started to breed Red Siskins and now have the largest flock in the United States. APEC provides birds on breeder loan to Zoo's and Institutions that want to join the captive breeding efforts. APEC has transferred birds to 7 facilities so far and has bred over 180 siskins.
APEC is also developing protocols on nutrition and captive breeding for the Red Siskin. Our hope is that this knowledge and our efforts to bring other institutions into the captive breeding program may lead to an AZA designated Species Survival Plan (SSP). This will lead to the long-term management of this species in captivity as an ark population to insure against total extinction. Additionally, APEC's diet and breeding protocols have helped one of the RSI partners, Provita, to be able to captively breed siskins at a facility in Venezuela. This facility was set up to house confiscated and poached siskins. The idea is to breed these birds for release back into protected areas of Venezuela.
People working to understand, protect and restore sustainable populations of the Red Siskin.
Once ranging through Northern South America and parts of the Caribbean, the Red Siskin (Spinus cucullatus), is now critically endangered. Photo courtesy of the Smithson Institute.
These fragmented populations are under threat from illegal poaching and habitat loss. Photo courtesy of the Smithson Institute.
The red siskin seed mix, developed by APEC, includes important seeds, like, nyger and hemp, which have been found vital for reproduction.
Fresh, whole foods are an important component of captive reared Red Siskin’s diet.