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Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll
Photo by: 
Bonnie Dickson

I usually reserve this column for birds we commonly see in our area but this winter’s finch invasion has inspired me to write about a unique visitor that I want you all to be on the lookout for. The Common Redpoll is a northern finch that rarely wanders this far south. This winter is quite the exception with many individu- als being reported at feeders mixed in with American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins.

At first glance, redpolls can be written off as a light-colored Pine Siskin. That is until you see the red forehead, black face and tiny yellow bill. When folks have called in to report one, the first question I ask is about the bill color. Like other finches, they prefer nyjer, sunflower kernels and black oil sunflower and will almost always be found in mixed finch flocks.

I remember a presentation about Peregrine Falcons nesting on Greenland and the presenter said there were only 4 species of songbirds that nested on Greenland and Common Redpolls were one. It goes without saying then that Common Redpolls are extremely hearty little birds.I have also read they they conserve energy at night by sleeping in snow tunnels.

When you nest “at the top of the world” and only winter as far south as you have to due to food availability, you’re a survivor. In typical winters they are only commonly seen in our northern tier states with stragglers wandering into Nebraska, Iowa and Northern Missouri. This winter is quite different as there must have been a significant seed crop failure (typically Birch trees) for them.

Keep your finch feeders filled and your eyes open. Let us know if you see these little guys at your feeder this year or any year. We would love to document their movement.

By Mark McKellar