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The Lives of Common Redpolls, with Images & Facts

Updated on June 13, 2015

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Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret)

Sometimes this is listed as a subspecies of the Common Redpoll but sometimes it is broken apart from that species. Either way it is native to Europe and has even been introduced to New Zealand.

Here are photos of a male and a female from Scotland.

It seems that their diet and practically everything is the same as the other redpolls, it is just their range and habitat which are different.

Interesting facts:

Common Redpolls are able to live through temperatures of -65 F. A review in Alaska found Redpolls had put on weight of 31 percent more feathers in November than they had in July.

For the period of the entire winter, during the long arctic nights, some of these birds tunnel into the snow to stay warm the entire night. About 4” under the snow may be tunnels more than a foot long which act like a cocoon because the snowpack acts as insulation and stays much warmer than the night air.

When you follow a road around a map of the world, take a look at the map from the top. C. Redpolls breed around the world in the lands that ring the Arctic Ocean. There’s a lot of land up there! Though many of us try hard to see a few redpolls each winter, worldwide their numbers are likely in the tens of millions.

Animal behaviorists usually test an animal’s intelligence by being aware as to whether it can pull a string to get at a hanging piece of food. Common Redpolls pass this test with no problem. They have also been to swing birch catkins* (Kleidocerys resedae {Panzer} common birch trees) feeders back and forth until the seeds fall to the ground, and then the birds pick the food up from the flat snow surface. Theses have also been known as *birch catkin bugs.

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

Some reviews show that in winter redpolls live almost entirely on a diet of birch seeds. They eat up to 42% of their body’s sum total every day. They can store up to 0.07 oz. (2 grams) of seeds in a stretchy part of their esophagus, enough for about a quarter of their daily energy need.

A few banding files have shown that some of them are especially wide ranging. Among them, a bird banded in Michigan turned up in Siberia; others which were let go in Alaska were then run into in the eastern United States, and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found 2 years later in China.

Size:

It has a body length which is between 5” to 5.5”. When it spreads its wings it measures from tip to tip approximately 7.5" to 8.7". The body weight comes in at relatively 0.4 to 0.7 ounces.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
Photo of male Common RedpollMealy Redpoll Acanthis flammea, female; Kotka, Finland A Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) in Kittilä, Finland.  (Might be a juvenile)
Photo of male Common Redpoll
Photo of male Common Redpoll | Source
Mealy Redpoll Acanthis flammea, female; Kotka, Finland
Mealy Redpoll Acanthis flammea, female; Kotka, Finland | Source
A Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) in Kittilä, Finland.  (Might be a juvenile)
A Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) in Kittilä, Finland. (Might be a juvenile) | Source

Identification: Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)






Male:

The male has upperparts which are brown-streaked gray plus he has a rose-pink color to his breast. The cap is red and the chin is black while the bill is an olive brown color and it has a fine black tip. The wings are dark and display two narrow white bars while the tail has a notch on the end of it. On the sides the male reveals boldly streaked flanks, and underneath are boldly streaked undertail coverts plus he has black legs and feet.

Female and juvenile:

The female and juvenile basically look similar having no difference in color, except for the beaks. The female may have a yellowish tint to her beak while the beak of the juvenile is simply a plain dull color. They also have the black legs and feet as mentioned in the male.






Common Redpolls feeding in snow

Hoary Redpoll & Common Redpoll
Hoary Redpoll & Common Redpoll | Source

Feeding:





Common Redpolls eat mainly seeds, usually of willow and spruces, pines, alder and birch; also wildflowers relating to buttercups and mustard, sedges and grasses and random berries. Over the summer they also eat a large amount of insects and spiders. Their diet in the winter is widely seeds from birch and alder or thistle seed and millet seed at feeders.

They are a little nomadic. Where the birch supply is good they land in numbers but may move away with their fledglings and take a stab at a second brood elsewhere if they find another area with ample food supply.

They are able to hang upside-down — like chickadees — and pry the birch seed from hanging catkins.














Eggs in nest

Common Redpoll eggs in a nest
Common Redpoll eggs in a nest | Source

Nesting and Breeding:

Once they form a pair they both stick together for life because they are monogamous.

Females do most of the searching for nest sites and when she searches it may be near other redpoll nests. They place their nests over thin horizontal branches or crotches in spruces, alders, birches and willows. Nests tend to be low to the ground or, on the tundra, placed on driftwood, rock ledges, or other low ground cover. Redpolls may take ‘stuff’ from old nests to make new ones but usually do not use old nests.

The female takes on the job of building the nest. The nest is laid across thin branches, but not before it is built on a foundation of small twigs. The nest is made from roots, fine twigs, grasses and tree moss. She then puts a thick layer of either Spruce Grouse or ptarmigan feathers, or with lemming fur, wool, hair or downy plant material. The completed nest is up to 4” side-to-side with a cup of 2.5” in diameter. The nest measures 2” in depth.

Broods: This Redpoll pair lays their eggs 1 – 3 times throughout the breeding season.

Eggs: When they choose lay their eggs, they lay 2 - 7 pale green to pale blue eggs spotted with purple color.

Incubation Period: The eggs are kept warm in the nest for 11 days. When the eggs hatch and the young step out of them they are naked and helpless.

Fledgling Period: After hatching, the birds are still in the nest for another 9 – 16 days. Meanwhile, the male brings her food for the young while they are in the nest. The female still usually does the feeding though. When it comes time for the young to leave the nest, they are able to weakly flap their wings. The parents proudly parade around with young ones following them from place to place. When the juveniles have become 26 days old then they are independent.


Range map

Source

Range:

The Common Redpoll breeds from Alaska and northern Quebec south to British Columbia, Newfoundland and Magdalen Islands. It spends its winters at intervals south to California, Oklahoma and the Carolina's. It has also been found in Eurasia.










Habitat and behavior:

Common Redpolls are international when they breed in the far northern ranges, in open woods of spruce and pine, alder, dwarf arctic birch and willow in the neighborhood of 5,000’ in height. In essence, in the treeless tundra they turn up in shelters and hollows where conifers or deciduous shrubs are able to grow. These birds also live close to towns. A lot of people are able to view them in the winter, which is when the redpolls move south. In their winter area, which can be highly changeable as the birds are looking for variable food sources, redpolls turn up in woodlands, scrubby and weedy fields and at backyard feeders too.

They also winter in open thickets and on brushy pastures where they feed much like goldfinches except they are slightly larger than the goldfinches.


Voice:

The Common Redpoll has a harsh “chit-chit-chit” or “swe-ee-et” for its call. It has a bit of a cracked report to it, which is usually given in flight and suggests a White-winged Crossbill’s but is more rapid. You could also say that the call sounds like a soft shaking of coins.

It has a song which is a twittering trill.

Conservation status:

These redpolls cover a large area so there is a great number of them and they are on the ‘Least Concern' list. The rating they received on the Continental Concern Score was 7 out of 20.

Because humans have many effects on the environment, these birds breed faraway in the north, away from large numbers of humans. A problem when they head southward to visit areas which are more heavily inhabited is that at feeders they fall victims to infections such as salmonella.

In the past over in Europe these birds were trapped for two reasons: 1) to use as food or, 2) to keep them in cages. It remains to be seen what moderations the alerations in the weather may cause for their arctic and plateau range.

The amount of 160 million is Partners in Flight estimation of the global breeding population. Out of this amount, there are 17% found in Canada and 22% found in the United States.

You might think that this is good but they are still able to give in to salmonella when they come south to the more heavily populated areas at feeders.

Common Redpoll hanging on a branch

 A common redpoll (Carduelis flammea) in Hupisaaret Islands park in Oulu, Finland hanging on a branch.
A common redpoll (Carduelis flammea) in Hupisaaret Islands park in Oulu, Finland hanging on a branch. | Source

Other facts/habits:

This bird is a random winter visitor to the United States, often in big flocks.

These are active birds, they are very social and constantly mobile; even when resting at night members of the flock can act hyper and twitter.

Common Redpolls are little birds which are so busy they are full of life and they forage in flocks, gleaning, fluttering or being fastened upside-down to the farthest tips of tree branches because they are acrobatic.

Like many finches, they have an undulating, up-and-down pattern when they fly.

To keep their flocks in better management, redpolls have several ways of displaying their meanings. When conflicting with their flock mates, a redpoll fluffs its plumage, faces its adversary, and opens its bill sometimes jutting its chin to display the black face patch. Males court females but the males fly in low circles while calling and singing. Males may feed females during courtship. You may see small flocks of this social species even during the breeding season; during migration they may group into the thousands.

A group of redpolls is known as a “gallup” of redpolls.

Although they are small - the Common Redpoll is still able to endure the severe weather which the winter throws at them because they are a natural bird from up north.

The oldest known Common Redpoll was 7 years 10 months old.

How well do you know the redpoll?


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© 2013 The Examiner-1

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    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I take it that you liked it Lisa. I am glad. I appreciate your words of praise, thank you.

      Kevin

    • Lisa Luv profile image

      Lisa J Warner 3 years ago from Conneticut, USA

      EXCELLENT! sharing further... and voting up!!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I do thank you rdsparrowwriter and you are very welcome. I am glad to please. :-) I also appreciate the vote.

      Kevin

    • rdsparrowriter profile image

      rdsparrowriter 3 years ago

      Interesting and lot of new things I learnt today :) Thank you :) God bless you! Voted up :)

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I thank you very much Eiddwen. It is always nice to see a familiar face and I thank you as usual for the votes and all else. :-) You are aware that all these are birds of the US of which you are reading about. Their migration or strays may be outside the US as will any foreign relative birds. I am beginning to explore birds outside the US but I have only written about one so far.

      Are you on 4-01-14 yet? If you are, Happy April Fool's Day!

      Kevin - May the birds fly free!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Brilliant Kevin an especially seeing as I knew nothing about these enchanting birds at all. You are are such a wonderful teacher ;I vote up, across and share all over as always. Wishing you a wonderful day my dear friend.

      Eddy.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Suhail,

      I forgot to include that redpolls are one of the birds that come to backyard feeders so perhaps some of them are basically habituated. It probably depends on where they live most of the time.

      Kevin

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      That is hard to answer Suhail. There are various conditions with different birds: such as the House Sparrow is one of the top birds which adjusts to city life. It builds nests anywhere it can. Even the eave of a city building. They will even walk on city streets of NY for food scraps! Birds in parks mix with humans, but there also shy birds in those same parks who hide until the humans are gone. In one species - certain ones may like humans and certain ones may not.

      You will see a parrot sitting on an owners shoulder and hopping on their hand when they open the cage. If a stranger opens the cage, or even goes near it to say hi, the bird goes to the far side of its bar. I had a Black-capped Chickadee and a Tufted Titmouse eat from my hand. Others have various birds do that.

      It all depends on the personality of the bird - the same as a personality of a human. Even if 99% of a species is shy there may be 1% that is not. Or the same for the opposite type.

      Kevin

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Are redpolls habituated to human presence or are they shy birds?

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I am glad that this article could please you Suhail but sorry that you have not seen one yet. Keep your eye out, they may show up. Just put the right seeds in one of your feeders and it may attract them.

      You are welcome for the information and thank you for visiting.

      Kevin

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Although I am eagerly looking forward to seeing them, I haven't seen one yet.

      I am glad I landed on this article of my interest.

      Thanks for sharing so much of information on my favorite finch.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      You were right on the money about them being finches! Congrats!

      Kevin

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      That sounds like a big house. Have you seen the one in "10 stupid things that rich people buy"? It was by TheHoleStory. I could not believe the size of that house! And the price that was paid for it!!

      I live in a two story house (three if you count the basement) which my mother and I had rented it but she passed away.

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 3 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      I thought these birds were in the finch family but I was not sure. I love these birds.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 3 years ago from Minnesota

      Ya-this is a huge house. We feel so grateful and excited about this place. Sis and I have some funny terms for it. We have the Penthouse Suites on the top floor (three bedrooms, 2 huge bathrooms which all have double sinks, two showers in one bathroom and and a shower and jacuzzi in the other one. Oh, and my favorite thing about my room up there, a huge walk-in closet. Then we have what we call the mezzanine level where you walk in-This is the kitchen, sunken living room with a fireplace, and bathroom and high deck .Then the finished basement which has a 50's style bathroom with a stand up shower and red and black colors-A laundry room, a weird room that looks like a wine cellar (our teens call it the Gonge room :-0) A living room with a gas fireplace, another room that my nephew calls a guitar room aka office, and a huge deck with three tiers out the living room. After finding this place, sis and I are over moving out of the house we owned. We're all about renting now. No worrying about the upkeep like we use to. We even have a care-taker that comes and fixes things that break etc... it's the owners brother. This is living I tell you.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      You are welcome, I try to be. Thank you for stopping by. :-) These are another member of the finch family. Well if you keep a sharp eye open they are in your area! Try putting out the food & flowers which they like. Good luck and let me know if you do.

      Kevin

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 3 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      Thank you so much for sharing this information as well as doing such a thorough job. I love birds and had never heard of these birds before. I look forward to seeing one face to face.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Congratulations on the house - gee, I always thought that 'tree houses' were small houses. LOL

      I am renting and I think that it is metal siding on this house. I have recognized when woodpeckers are making noise on the side during the summer. I hear the birds singing at the top of the chimney. I even have a chimney swift inside the chimney. This is all in the spring/summer when the birds migrate back up here.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 3 years ago from Minnesota

      Aha-that makes sense about the long beaks.

      The house my sister and I just moved into is called a 'tree-house.' It's really tall and when your upstairs and look down, you are on top of the tallest tree's. It's so cool! We see lots of birds and especially woodpeckers. The home owner has these metal looking things all around the outside of house because the woodpeckers like the wood siding and made holes, back in the day. She finally talked to someone who told her woodpeckers don't like flashy things or twirling things. When we moved in this past summer, we were like, "what the heck are those things blowing in the wind." I can see one big hole that she had to patch with something. Glad she figured out what to do to take care of the problem-I'm sure it would cost her so much to have to re side this huge house. Anyway, that's my bird input today. LOL

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Thank you very much Linda. I have been attracted to birds for quite a while - both inside the house as well as outside. lol Thank you for your comments about my article too. When you mentioned them looking like woodpeckers I thought maybe the size resembled the two smallest, but the only ones in or near Minnesota are large. Besides, woodpeckers have very long beaks.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 3 years ago from Minnesota

      What an excellent article on the redpoll. They look a little like the woodpeckers I see out my window. Who knows, maybe I've been seeing some redpoll's but not sure if we have them in Minnesota.

      I must have paid great attention to this fascinating article because I did really good on the quiz. LOL Just had to brag :-) What a wonderful hobby you have Kevin. I can tell your really passionate about it.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
      Author

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Really. I lived in NJ but they did not enter that area. :-(

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are beautiful little birds. We used to have them in Maine.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
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      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Alphapx

      Glad to hear about your lovebirds. I hope that you have a pair of these too. Thank you for your comment.

      I am in the process of writing about another redpoll - it will be up soon.

    • Alphapx profile image

      Alphapx 3 years ago from Philippines

      We have lovebirds at home. Now I get excited with this one also. I hope I will have a pair later.