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Common Redpoll

Above: Common Redpoll by Christian Artuso

How do I recognize it?

A small finch, primarily distinguished by the small red crown on top of its head, and highly streaked sides. Adult breeding males, are decorated by a stunning pink breast, ending in a clean white belly. Adult females and younger birds have a clean white breast and belly, although eh heavy streaking remains. Apart from the red crown, look out for the dark face, and yellow, stout bill, which is ideal for crushing seeds. For comparison, the Hoary Redpoll, which may also be encountered, is paler, with faint streaks on its side.

Does it migrate?

Yes, but it is not a neotropical migrant, instead moving from the Arctic to the southern Canadian provinces, and states bordering the 49th Parallel. This species is irruptive, meaning that every couple of years, large flocks head deeper into the USA, feeding on bountiful seeds where available.

Above: Common Redpoll by Christian Artuso

Where does it live?

This species is considered circumpolar. That means if you look at the top of a globe, you look at Common Redpoll breeding habitat (except the very top – these are the domains of the Hoary Redpoll). It breeds in open woodlands, including those along the boreal treeline and in scrubby hollows. The seeds of willows and birches are favourite meals. In winter, this is a species which appears in towns and cities, and open woodlands, where there are plenty of seeds, and are present across southern Canada, and the US states along the Canadian border.

Where can I see it?

For breeding individuals, take a trip to Churchill (one opportunity is to attend the excellent birding workshop led by Rudolf Koes, and based at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre each June). From fall through to spring, there is a good chance you may find this species in towns and cities in southern Manitoba. Their favoured food are seeds from birch trees, but you are also likely to encounter redpolls at feeders, especially if there are small seeds available including nyjer seeds.

Above: Common Redpoll by Christian Artuso

Conservation Status:

Although breeding trends are hard to come by – a problem encountered with many species which breed in the far north - this remains a common species. The current global estimate is 160 million individuals, with at least 17% spending at least part of the year in Canada. The biggest threat to their populations is the great unknown caused by anthropogenic climate change, and how this will influence their breeding habitats.

Did you know?

Traditionally, there were considered to be three species of Redpoll: Common; Hoary or Arctic and; Lesser. Hoary Redpoll is a paler version of Common Redpoll, breeding in more open, even shrubbier  tundra habitats, and even further north. The Lesser Redpoll is found in western Europe, and is the smallest of the redpolls. A paper published by scientists from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in 2015 suggests that across the genome of these three redpolls, there is less than 1% difference. This is significant – it suggests that we should consider there to be a single species of redpoll. For some of us, this would be a great blow – 2 species removed from your bird life list is a heavy blow!