Common Redpolls don’t show up every winter, but in the years when they do come, they can come in big numbers - frequently in flocks of over 100. The Common Redpoll is a small finch, and is about the same size as our American Goldfinch. In fact, they produce some similar call notes and display some similar behavior as that familiar species.
|Only the adult male Redpoll has a rosy chest|
When they first arrive in this area, I don't usually find them at bird feeders right away. Instead, I find them in the birch trees. The seeds of the Birch are a staple food of the Redpolls, and these birds seek them out throughout their expansive range. For a few weeks in early winter, whenever I would find birch catkins scattered beneath a tree, it was a safe bet that a flock of Redpolls had been actively foraging.
|Redpolls of both sexes have the distinctive red cap and the small black chin patch|
Redpolls are able to store seeds in a throat pouch. This is a useful adaptation for a species that sometimes must travel long distances between food sources. When they do find bird feeders, their seed of preference is usually thistle or nyjer seed, but they also readily feed on sunflower seeds. For us, it’s most often in the second half of the winter that the Redpolls begin coalescing around the bird feeders. When they do, they can become very reliable patrons – visiting daily and necessitating frequent refilling of the feeders.
|A newly arrived flock of Common Redpolls feeds on the seeds of a Gray Birch|
The Common Redpoll is a bird of the Arctic. There they spend the summer breeding season on the tundra and into the boreal forest. They typically build their well-insulated nests in shrubs or low conifers. They will only come south of the Canadian border when their natural food supplies are lacking. This is when they are forced to push into or “irrupt” into other regions.
|The adult male Hoary Redpoll shows a considerable amount of white plumage|
|The Hoary Redpoll 's back has a frosty appearance|
|The Pine Siskin appears heavily streaked, and has a longer bill that other small finches|
|Note the yellow tail feathers on this siskin|
The Pine Siskin is another heavily streaked small finch whose visits from are unpredictable. Individual siskins show varying amounts of yellow on their wings and tail. The species also has a much longer bill than either the Goldfinch or the Redpoll, and that feature can help you pick them out in a mixed flock of winter finches. Unlike the Redpolls, the breeding range for the siskin extends well into the US, particularly in higher elevations where there is boreal forest. Also, unlike the Redpolls, we've had siskins visit our feeders in all seasons of the year, though rarely in successive years.
|A group of Evening Grosbeaks (and one House Sparrow) perch in one of the nature preserve's sumac trees|
Other winter finches came through the region this winter, but few stayed long. Throughout our Central New York State region, the amount of food in the wild is low this year, and for the most part, the larger finches like Evening Grosbeak, Pine Grosbeak and the 2 species of crossbill have been forced to try their luck in other regions.
|A male Pine Grosbeak feeds heartily on Crab Apples|