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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  • That doesn't address my concern about the bird houses. I'm on a tiny piece of property (40x100) so there's not much room to plant a heck of a lot or places birds could put nests once the bird houses are gone.
    by Linda DiPierro, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Plant some native plants in your yard that will attract pollinators and produce berries and nuts. There should be a local society that has a list of recommended plants, shrubs, and trees.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • Same concerns here. See above post. For your situation I would consider planting a few native plants that will naturally produce berries and seeds that the birds in your area need to survive. Try planting some that will yield foods for all seasons.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • I've thought about this myself. One thing I considered doing is leaving behind some bird food and a gift card to my local wild bird store with a note asking the new homeowners to please continue feeding the birds. Don't know how well that work but it's worth a try.
    by Ladylanita, Mon, 25 May 2020
  • thanks for the article. I believe that I may have spotted my first hairy woodpecker this morning. we see the downy woodpecker often. it's small. the hairy woodpecker, when compared with the downy, is HUGE. also, the downy feeds at the feeder like most birds--standing upright. This bird, because of its size, hung from the feeder perch with most of it's body below the feeder--like the red belly woodpeckers that we see often. we live is strasburg va. is it possible that we saw a hairy woodpecker this morning?
    by PEretired, Sat, 23 May 2020