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Mealy Redpoll { Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 9, 2015


Taken in Ontario Canada
Taken in Ontario Canada | Source


The mealy Redpoll has been allocated the generic name of Carduelis from the Latin for the Goldfinch and the specific name of flammea {flammea} from the Latin Flamma meaning a flame. It was formerly known by the names of Linaria minor and Fringilla linaria.

In the UK it is on the Green list of Conservation Concern {no current concerns} with an estimated three hundred birds during the winter. It breeds in northern Eurasia and winters south to southern Europe and central Asia. It also breeds in the northern parts of northern America. It does not breed in the UK.

The European population is estimated between 800,000 and four million pairs. here are some examples of their distribution in Europe. In Austria 15,000-30,000 breeding pairs,Belgium 50-250 breeding pairs, France 5,0000-10,000 breeding pairs Germany between 7,000-17,000 breeding pairs and Sweden 225,000 -one million breeding pairs .

The Gaelic name for the bird is Dearcan -Seilich the Welsh Llinos Flodiog and the Irish Deargeaden

The Lesser Redpoll, Carduelis cabaret is by far the common of the two species in the UK with an estimated 190,000 pairs in summer..However, they have been placed on the Red list of Conservation Concern { declines of over 50% in the last forty years or so in breeding populations} In Ireland they are Green listed {no concerns} where they are widespread. There is often confusion between these two species especially among amateur naturalists.

Here we review the Mealy Redpoll species, with notes on the common Redpoll, which is a very similar looking, closely related species. As always we commence with a description of the subject under review

Mealy Redpoll


Description of the Mealy redpoll

The Mealy Redpoll is a similar bird to the Common Linnet** Having a dark red forehead,tiny bill and a small black chin. They are pale to deep pink upon the breast and rump when in breeding plumage,and a small,thin,streaked brownish body. The under parts are buffish white with long dark streaks.The upper parts are pale brown on the back and sides of the neck and streaked brownish black.

In relation to its body size the wings are medium, the tail medium long, the neck short. The bill is short as are the legs.

They measure 11-14.5 cm { Four and a quarter -five and three quarter inches. Both sexes each weigh between 10-14 gm..

Courtesy PicaHD. Lesser redpolle right , the Mealy redpolle on the left

Mealy and Lesser Redpolls.

Meyer 1846,speaks of the Mealy 'Redpolle' named under Linaria borealis-" as an inhabitant of the northern parts of the globe,as its specific name {then},implies. It is an inhabitant both of the old and new continents, but it is chiefly confined according to Temminck,to the regions situated in and about the Arctic circle.As an inhabitant of North America, this species has long been known, but it was not until lately recognised as identical to our British straggler. Both this species and the Lesser one are common to America and are there also considered to be two distinct species,and, described as such by the Prince of Musignano,by Dr. Richardson and others."

" In relative proportions, we believe no marked distinction is perceieved between the two species namely L.borealis { Mealy} and L.minor {lesser redpolle now named Carduelis cabaret} the principle difference is the size and in the tints of the plumage In size the mealy exceeds our more common species considerably,some of them being as large as the common linnet"

Lesser redpoll

Uploaded by Bogbumper. The original photograph was taken in Finland.
Uploaded by Bogbumper. The original photograph was taken in Finland. | Source

General information and historical observations.

In their habits this and all the Redpoll's are much alike, restless,fidgety,inquisitive and mischievous but intelligent little birds., Seebohm 'History of Birds vol 2 ' makes some interesting observations on the habits of this species, both abroad and in England, which are worthy of note.he says that in the winter they are principally ground feeders,which we should have expected to be the case from what we know of Linnets and Goldfinches,like those birds they 'alight in a flock on a bed of thistles' and amuse themselves by picking them to pieces. He also records the fact of their picking seeds from horse droppings on the roads, which is instructive as showing that they look upon oats and kindred grain as wholesome food, a fact which aviculture taught me many years ago.

However, in the breeding season in northern Europe and other places they feed mainly on insects.

Seebohm, also treated the Redpolls as races of one species. The bird was known to him as Acanthis linaria, which he referred to as the typical form and the two extremes as A,rufescens and A.hornemanni,being worthy of sub-specific rank. Howard Saunders on the other hand united the two species A.linaria and A hornemanni,remarking " For the sake of convenience,I propose to treat the mealy redpolls under one heading,and to take our small,dark lesser redpoll separately "

Acanthis flammea { Carduelis flammea}

Taken in Finland
Taken in Finland | Source

Keeping wild birds was once a popular pastime


Mealy Redpolls' in captivity

Before wild birds became protected by the law {with certain exceptions} wild birds were regularly deprived of their freedom and sold as cage and aviary birds and also for food. Bird catchers made a good living from capturing and selling the birds for the above purposes. This activity though some would say morally wrong was entirely legal at that period of our history. There follows a few paragraphs on the subject of this species being kept in captivity.

Butler,1889, remarks--" In confinement the crimson and rosy colouring of this species entirely disappears after the first moult,excepting in large and well ventilated aviaries,when it is sometimes partially retained" This statement applied equally to the Lesser Redpoll,the Twite and Linnet.

It seems they became a favourite cage bird, because they could be taught to perform meaningless tricks, by a certain class of people,who were charmed by what is unnatural. One eminent ornithologist remarks on the subject " To the true lover of nature a talking bird may be amusing,because it is in the nature of birds to imitate sound;but a performing bird is offensive"

henry Stevenson in his book 'Birds of Norfolk' page 229, states " both the Mealy and Lesser Redpolls',from their tameness and engaging actions,are most desirable additions to the cage and aviary, but from their happy contented nature are ;liable to grow too fat, and like Ortolans, when over-far, drop of the perch in a fit of apoplexy"

There is on record an account of a Mealy Redpoll having bred in captivity. Mr Charles Bland,a successful breeder of Brambling**,had a brood of young Mealy Redpolls' hatched in his aviary at Stoke {English Midlands} in July 1860,which was a very rare event for this species.

The mealy Redpoll were once caught in large numbers in Europe. 'the bird catcher gathered his harvest,and the markets are glutted throughout Europe'

The birds were also exhibited in shows that were also very popular {and still are in many regions} at that time. However, there seems to have some dispute about awarding prizes for this species. During the mid 1800's, the judges at some of the largest shows had been unwilling to award prizes in the British classes,to birds which did not breed with us,asserting, in support of their action,that most birds had not even been captured on British soil, but had been imported as cage birds direct from Germany. However, it seems that some invariably waived this objection in the case of the Mealy redpoll,which usually carried off the prizes over the heads of the more soberly clad though home bred lesser Redpoll.

It seems that such inconsistency can only be explained on the supposition that the life history of the Mealy Redpoll had not been so intimately studied as it ought to have been by those who dealt with it upon the show bench.

Nest,eggs and young

The nest of the Mealy Redpoll is usually placed in the fork of a birch tree at no great height from the ground. It has also been recorded in grass-tussocks. It is neatly constructed of twigs,bent grasses,strips of bark and lichen and moss. The lining is composed of willow catkins,vegetable down,hair,wool and sometimes feathers.

The female deposits from 4-6 eggs which vary in colour from pale greenish white to pale bluish- white with dark brown spots,and paler red brown underlying markings. The eggs are incubated for 10-12 days by the female. The young birds fledge in a further 10-14 days. { In the UK it is a very breeder}.

It appears that this has always been the case. Butler in his 'British Birds with their Nest and Eggs' 1896-98, says on the subject " Although there is no satisfactory evidence to prove that the mealy redpoll has ever bred in Britain, a male in breeding plumage was observed at Riddlesworth in July 1848 and noticed by Professor Alfred Newton in the 'Zoologist',still this bird may have escaped from an outdoor aviary after a few months in confinment.

Eggs of the Mealy Redpoll



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello Deb, we learn so much from each other. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Wonderful information and string pictures. As always, you never cease to inform.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Eddy nice to see you back hope you have settled in to your new home. Thank you also for your kind comments and votes which are always much appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      4 years ago from Wales

      Oh how nice it is to be back reading and learning from your wonderful hubs once again. Voted up and shared.


    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Peggy,thank you for your kind comments and Vote etc, all of which are greatly appreciated. Best wishes to you.

      Ericdierker, thank you for your visit,glad you enjoyed. Best wishes to you.


      Hellow Devika, thank you too, for your kindness and loyal follow. Also for your vote etc and share. I really thank you for that.Best wishes to you.


      hello my friend you are welcome. I hope to share many more. Best wishes to you.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      4 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Beautiful bird. I also enjoy the pictures as well. Thanks for sharing with us. Voted up!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A very pretty bird. It has such different and interesting behaviors. A small amount of eggs laid and with an ideal sight of a Finch. I always enjoy reading informative hubs from you. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful also shared

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very cool birds.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I really enjoyed reading about this smart, inquisitive and pretty little bird. I like to think of them in the wild...not caged where they even lose their pretty coloring after a first moult. Up votes, pinning to my Birds board, G+ and sharing with my followers.


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