Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Common Redpolls - Smart Birds

I have a lack of redpolls!  The past couple of days, the 100+ Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) that wintered in my neighbourhood have gone. There are only 2-3 around my yard now.

Actually with this never-ending Winter of 2013, they have lingered here longer than usual, giving us nice looks at the very bright rosy-red breeding plumage.

Pete Dunne calls them the Catkin Finch and says this northern finch loves birch catkins - simply loves themI don't have birch.  I toss out seeds in the winter.  That works, too.

Quoting P. Dunne once again, he describes the CORE as a "streaky, stubby, effervescent pip-squeak of a finch with a small red beret and a black goatee."

These birds are smaller than House Finches.  They are a little bigger than a Pine Siskin, with which the less showy female redpoll can be confused (until one sees the jaunty red cap).
These personable little birds are arctic and subarctic breeders.  All About Birds provides us with this little cool fact:
Common Redpolls can survive temperatures of –65 degrees Fahrenheit. A study in Alaska found redpolls put on about 31% more plumage by weight in November than they did in July.   During winter, some Common Redpolls tunnel into the snow to stay warm during the night. Tunnels may be more than a foot long and 4 inches under the insulating snow.
I’ve never seen evidence of this, but then we don’t get quite as cold as –65F....close but not that temp, I’d probably be a little busy tunnelling into the snow myself to notice what birds are digging along side of me. 

Another fun fact:   Animals behaviourists commonly test an animal’s intelligence by seeing if it can pull in a string to get at a hanging piece of food. (I’m not making this up). Common Redpolls pass this test with no trouble. They’ve also been seen shaking the seeds out of birch catkins, then dropping to the ground to pick them up from the snow surface.

And: Redpolls have throat pouches for temporarily storing seeds. They may fill their pouches with seeds quickly then fly away to swallow the seeds in a more protected, warmer spot.

The fun facts with these birds never's yet another one:
Redpolls breed in all the the lands that ring the Arctic Ocean. A few banding records have shown that some Common Redpolls are incredibly wide ranging. Among them, a bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia; others in Alaska have been recovered in the eastern US, and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found two years later in China.

Info sources:

All About Birds
Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion 


  1. Awesome facts!! we still have a group here, but they dont seem to be devouring the food as much!

    1. Their minds are on something else, I guess...

  2. Earlier in March I counted 54 redpolls at my feeders (the most I've ever seen at my feeders). Lately, I've been seeing three redpolls, but two of them have very rosy breasts.

    1. We had a huge amount of redpolls this year. Usually there were about 50-60 in the yard, but after a fresh snow or on particularly cold days, another 50 or so would come to the yard. There were several good-sized flocks in the valley and ravines nearby.

  3. I live in Peterborouh, Ontario. I still have 100 redpolls at my feeders. They eat and eat. During Chrismas holidays there were at least 300 of them. Nyger seeds are expensive but. The birds bring a lot of joy. They ate in my hand.

    1. Lovely birds and fun to watch. How lucky you had such a close-up experience!

  4. Here is southern Minnesota I usually have a few redpolls, lots of purple, house and goldfinches, rarely big flocks of pine siskins. I'm still waiting for my first hoary red poll which can be found in the northern part of our state. Great post, Kathy. Minus 65 F. now tha's a survivor...:)