Wildlife and Nature Photography

Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

11 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Male Common Redpoll perched on a cluster of alder catkins.

The Common Redpoll is a small finch that breeds throughout the boreal forest and Arctic tundra to our north, but can be found across our area during winter months. Similar in size to an American Goldfinch, these birds are identified by their red foreheads and the black feathers surrounding their small yellow bills. Males are distinguished from females by the rosy feathers that extend down their necks to their breasts. Similar species include the House Finch and Pine Siskin, however the small but distinct red forehead quickly identifies them from other finches.

51 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Key field marks help distinguish the Common Redpoll from other finches. Note the red forehead, yellow bill, and the black feathers that surround it. The lack of rosy feathers on the neck and breast indicate this Common Redpoll is a female.

Common Redpolls are a highly irruptive species whose southward migration is driven chiefly by food. Common Redpolls are regularly found in pine, spruce, birch and alder trees where they feed on the seeds found in the cones or catkins by removing them with their tiny bills. Redpolls frequently visit backyard feeders and prefer a tube style finch feeder filled with small seeds such as nyjer or thistle. Sunflower seeds are also consumed at feeders by Common Redpolls. Hulled sunflower or sunflower chips are a great option for redpolls and other finches as these seeds are easier to consume out of the shell for these small billed birds. If you have backyard feeders, be sure to look closely at any of the finches visiting for the previously mentioned field marks to make sure you haven’t mistaken any Common Redpolls for House Finches.

31 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Seeds are the main source of food for redpolls. Here a female Common Redpoll prepares to extract a seed from an alder catkin.

Besides offering seed that finches enjoy, planting native trees is another way to attract these birds to your yard. As mentioned earlier Common Redpolls and other finches regularly feed on the seeds found in spruce and pine cones, as well as birch and alder catkins. If you wish to attract redpolls and other finches to your yard, consider adding any of these trees to your landscape this coming spring.

21 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

Female Common Redpolls can easily be confused with Pine Siskins or House Finches. Paying close attention to the yellow bill and red forehead will ensure proper identification.

In previous winters, I have had luck finding Common Redpolls in the stands of spruce trees on the various trails at Fanshawe Conservation area. Park gates are open 8am-4pm through the week until mid April granting free access to visitors wishing to do some winter birding. Although the gates remain closed on weekends, admission to the conservation area is still free, with plenty of parking in the large lot just before Fanshawe Dam.

This past week I had success locating Common Redpolls along the banks of the Thames River within Springbank Park. One small flock was observed feeding on the catkins of a Speckled Alder adjacent to the footbridge crossing the river to Thames Valley Golf Course. The brown streaking on these birds provides excellent camouflage, and if not for their quick movements these birds would have gone unnoticed. Learning and listening for their calls is very helpful in locating these winter finches as Common Redpolls can be quite vocal.

41 - Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls

The rosy feathers on the neck and breast of this Common Redpoll indicate it is a male. The lack of red on the rump, smaller size, and black feathers surrounding the yellow bill distinguish it from the male House Finch.

With winter not quite half over, there is still plenty of time to get out and search for these beautiful little finches. Be sure to keep your feeders full and look closely at any visiting finches to identify potential Common Redpolls. Attracting more wildlife, including birds, to your yard can be aided by planting native trees, shrubs and flowers. Winter is the perfect time to research which plants will attract various species and put together a spring planting plan. This winter, why not devise a plan to incorporate one of the native tress mentioned in this post into your landscape, and make your yard more finch friendly.

*click on the images in this post to view larger*

Good birding,





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2 Responses to “Winter Birding Is Not Complete Without A Search For Common Redpolls”

  1. Christine

    Thank you Paul for sharing you beautiful pictures.

    I am photographer in Michigan and am so jealous that you have Redpolls I wish I could attract them in my yard……have many House and Goldfinches but I must check closer some of my House finches seem a little brighter (more whitish) in color this year.

    • Paul Roedding

      Thank you Christine. I was very happy to see these redpolls and to get close enough to manage some photos. Definitely worth a second look at those House Finches especially the females; can be easily confused with redpolls.

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