Be Your Own Birder

Discover the Common Redpoll

A perky, cheery, finch, the common redpoll isn’t as common as its name may suggest. While these birds may be a northern specialty and less common for southern birders to see, there are many amazing facts to learn about these stunning winter birds whether you see them or not.

Common Redpoll - Photo by Nick Saunders
Common Redpoll – Photo by Nick Saunders

Common Redpoll Fun Facts

  • The common redpoll (Acanthis flammea) may not actually be the common redpoll at all. There are three redpoll species in the world – common, hoary, and lesser – but genetic analysis of the birds has shown that despite visible differences, each bird may not be a distinct species. Some authorities have already accepted the birds as the single species – redpoll – though that acceptance is not yet universal.
  • There are numerous subspecies of redpoll, including the Icelandic redpoll, mealy redpoll, Greenland redpoll, and northwestern redpoll. Genetic research is continuing to determine which, if any, redpolls should be classified as separate species.
  • These birds have highly variable plumage, not just between species and subspecies, but between genders as well. The amount of red on the breast and flanks can range from the faintest tinge to a much darker vest-like coloring. The thickness and darkness of the streaking on their underparts can also vary, as can the size of the small black mask surrounding their bills. Females are generally paler and less colorful than males.
  • One thing all redpolls share, whether you consider them one species or not, is the bright red patch on their foreheads and crowns. This part of the head anatomy is also known as the poll, hence the name “redpoll” for this key field mark.
  • These birds are well adapted to their Arctic habitat, and on the coldest winter nights, even tunnel into the snow to create a cozy burrow. Common redpoll tunnels have been measured as long as 16 inches, which is quite the feat for birds that only measure 5 inches long!
  • Another adaptation these birds have to survive extreme cold is their extra-thick plumage. These tiny birds increase their plumage by as much as 30 percent (by weight) between summer and winter to create better insulation as temperatures drop.
  • Because of their adaptations, common redpolls are the northernmost of all songbirds in winter, easily surviving where other songbirds are unable to live during the coldest months.
  • Redpolls are very active and acrobatic while foraging, and may even dangle upside down on branches or weed sprouts as they seek out each morsel with their tiny, sharply pointed bills.
Common Redpoll - Photo by Fyn Kynd
Common Redpoll – Photo by Fyn Kynd

Add the Common Redpoll to Your Life List

The common redpoll is common within its range, but that range is so far north – these birds breed in high mountains or generally more north than 50 degrees north latitude – that they’re out of reach for many birders. In winter, however, these birds do spread further south, and will often visit finch-friendly feeding stations that offer Nyjer, millet, and sunflower seeds. In their native range, visiting open forested habitats with abundant birch and spruce trees is sure to lead to common redpoll sightings, or else these birds can easily be seen in weedy fields where seeds are plentiful.

Learn More About the Common Redpoll

Even though these birds may common, there’s always more to learn about them.

Common Redpoll - Photo by Tim Lenz
Common Redpoll – Photo by Tim Lenz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *