Jan 8, 2020 | Featured Web Article

Meet the Redpolls

As winter rolls around, you may spot redpolls visiting your feeders, especially if you live in the states along the Canadian border.
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Redpolls spend the summer nesting in the forests of Alaska and northern Canada. As winter rolls around, you may spot redpolls visiting your feeders, especially if you live in the states along the Canadian border. About every two years, these foraging finches will irrupt farther south, extending their territory toward Interstate 40.

There have been as many as six redpoll species recognized in the past. Today they're viewed only as two species: the common and the hoary. Although these redpolls may look similar at first glance, a closer look reveals that the common redpoll has a darker brown back, heavier side streaks, and a distinctive red forehead, cheeks, and chest. Much like hoarfrost, the hoary redpoll is icy-pale white overall, with finer streaks, a lighter back, a red cap, and a stubby bill. Male hoary redpolls also sport a pale pink blush on their chests. Compared to other songbirds of a similar size, both redpoll species are better well-insulated against the cold thanks to their plumage.

Redpolls irrupt south when Canada's birch and spruce trees' seeds are in short supply. This scarcity indicates there will be less food for the birds in the winter, which drives redpolls south in search of other forms of nourishment. The finches eat small tree seeds as well as insects, arachnids, buds, leaves, and even algae. Backyard birders may spot them eating sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and millet at their feeders. However, it's only every two years that you may see a large number of redpolls in your yard, and that's most likely to happen if you're living in a northern state.

Common and hoary redpolls are rather noisy, especially when they're moving in a flock. Listen for a long, rising, nasally dsooe; a rattling chrrrrr; or a trill that includes short chit and twirrr notes. The species' sounds are nearly identical, with the hoary redpoll making slightly softer, lower calls.





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  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021