Common Redpoll

Acanthis flammea

A charming, acrobatic finch with a distinctive red patch on its head. They are found across parts of Europe, Asia and northern North America.

Other names:

Mealy Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Family:

Finches

Length:

12cm to 14cm

Wingspan:

20cm to 25cm

Weight:

12g to 16g

What does a Common Redpoll look like?

Common redpolls are very small members of the finch family and have a typical pointed conical bill that is perfect for seed-eating.

Adult birds are mostly brownish-grey all over and have a distinctive bright red patch on the top of their heads. Both the back and sides have streaking on them. The face is mainly dark, and the tail is deeply notched. Wings have a strong white wing bar.

The beak is horn coloured at the base and dusky at the tip during the breeding season and becomes light yellow with a dark tip for the rest of the year. The eyes are dark brown, and both the feet and legs are a dark, dusky-brown colour. The bill has a surrounding black chin.

Adult males are quite easy to identify as they have a pink wash on their breasts, whereas females have mainly white breasts. Both male and females have red ruby foreheads and during winter are generally paler all over.

The females' plumage is mostly similar to the males but they lack the pink breast, face and rump and although in some cases this colour is present, it can be less apparent. The streaking on the rump and back is heavier, and the black chin patch is duller and rounder than that of the male.

Juveniles have a similar plumage to the female but lack the pink colour and the red crown on top of their heads. Their general plumage is much paler, and underparts are more heavily streaked.

The plumage of the common redpoll is highly variable amongst individuals. The differences are mostly on how pale the plumage is and the amount of streaking.

A male common redpoll

A male common redpoll

Did you know?

Common redpolls are the polar bears of the bird world and are capable of surviving the coldest temperatures out of all of the songbirds. Extra food stored in their crops is digested throughout the night, which helps keep the redpoll nice and warm.

How big are Common Redpolls?

The common redpoll is a small bird with a total length between 12 and 14cm (4.7 - 5.5 inches). The wingspan varies between 19 and 22cm (7.5 - 8.7 inches).

How much does a Common Redpoll weigh?

The average weight for an adult is between 11 and 20g (0.38 - 0.7 ounces).

Confusion with other finch species

Common redpolls are often confused with the lesser redpoll and the Arctic redpoll. Common redpolls are generally smaller and paler than the lesser redpoll. There is quite a lot of confusion between these two species in particular, as they tend to flock together occasionally.

The differences between the arctic redpoll and common redpoll are that the common redpoll is generally darker. However, females are pretty much identical and can be very difficult to tell apart.

Female common redpoll

Female common redpoll

What is the difference between a common redpoll and a lesser redpoll?

The main difference between the common redpoll and lesser redpoll is that the common redpoll is slightly larger and generally have a paler base colour. This gives them more of a 'colder' appearance.

What is the scientific name for a Common Redpoll?

The full scientific name given is Acanthis flammea.

The specific name, flammea, is Latin for 'flame-coloured'.

The current genus name Acanthis, is derived from the Ancient Greek word akanthis and means a small now-identifiable bird.

How long do Common Redpolls live for?

The average lifespan for a common redpoll is between 2 and 3 years. The longest recorded age of a banded bird was over 9 years old and was recorded in Europe.

Common redpoll taking off for flight

Common redpoll taking off for flight

Are Common Redpolls rare or endangered?

Common redpolls are currently not threatened globally and are categorised as Least Concern on the IUCN List. Their global population is estimated to be between 50,000,000 - 149,999,999 individuals. The population is in slow decline but is not rapid enough to be listed on the vulnerable list. This is due to the huge population.

They are quite common to see within their breeding range and will often visit feeders in backyards and gardens, and in particular where there are Nyjer seeds present.

They are not usually hunted in North America but historically, in Europe, large numbers were trapped for food and the caged-bird trade. This is now much less common but they are still kept as popular cage birds.

What do Common Redpolls eat?

Their diets mainly comprise of seeds, small invertebrates and plant material. Seeds and plants are consumed throughout the majority of the year.

Insects are mostly consumed during the breeding season whilst feeding the young. These are largely bugs and spiders.

In winter, seeds are gathered rapidly and stored in special pouches in their guts. They will then regurgitate, shell them and will then eat them.

They are highly acrobatic feeders and capable of hanging like birds within the tit family, whilst extracting seeds. They can also perch on twig bearing catkin, grasp the base and twig to steady the catkin. They mainly feed in trees during the summer, unless seeds are not available, when they will then feed on the ground. During winter, they tend to feed mainly on the ground unless they come across birch and alder trees, where seeds are plentiful.

During the breeding season, they will forage on their own, in pairs or in small groups. Outside of the breeding season, they are very sociable and will form large flocks of up to several hundred birds. During severe weather and preferred foraging areas, these flocks can be extremely large.

Males are mostly dominant in the winter flocks, but as the breeding season approaches, the roles are reversed with the females becoming more dominant and often taking the lead in the courtship.

What seeds attract Common Redpolls?

If you want to attract more of these birds to your garden feeders, then nyjer seed, sunflower seeds and thistle seeds are some of their favourites and especially when the seeds are fresh.

They feed similarly to goldfinches, where they will move around a lot throughout the day in search of food. Often, the initial group will arrive prior and will then alert the other birds in the flock to come and join them. Small groups then peel off to other feeders until they are all fully occupied. Any of the left out birds will forage on the ground.

Common redpoll on the ground feeding

Common redpoll on the ground feeding

Do Common Redpolls mate for life?

They are usually monogamous, but this pair-bond usually only lasts for a single breeding season.

Are Common Redpolls aggressive?

Common redpolls are generally sociable birds outside of the breeding season and will form flocks with other finch species, notably the Eurasian Siskin.

Like most birds, they become fairly aggressive towards rivals during the breeding season. They will fluff up their plumage and face their opponent, before opening their bill to display the black chin patch.

Where do Common Redpolls nest?

Nests are built usually up to 5 metres above ground level in either a tree or shrub, often in a canopy or branch which is close to the trunk.

The nest selection process is mainly done by the female, but both sexes will search for suitable sites. Once a suitable nest site has been found, nests are primarily constructed by the females out of a mixture of fine twigs, rootlets and grasses and occasionally black tree moss. The nests are then lined with a thick layer of feathers and extra linings of hair; wool and soft vegetable matter may be added during the incubation period. The time it takes for them to construct a nest varies depending on the range, and can take anywhere from 2 - 7 days.

Old nests are rarely re-used, but material from them may be used in the construction of new ones.

Common redpoll sitting on nest

Common redpoll sitting on nest

How many eggs does a Common Redpoll lay?

Clutches usually contain between 4 and 6 eggs and is highly variable across the range.

The eggs are incubated solely by the females for around 11 days. During this period, the male is responsible for feeding the female. Females will regularly leave the nest for short periods to feed as well.

Once hatched, the female primarily feeds the young in the nest. During the first few days, the male will pass the food to the female who will then feed the young.

Both adults keep the nest clean by carrying or swallowing the faeces after feeding the young.

The young leave the nest at around 11 days old but will remain in family groups after leaving the nest.

Eggs are usually laid from the end of May until the end of June. This can also be later, depending on the range.

What do Common Redpoll eggs look like?

The eggs are smooth, slightly glossy and a greenish-white to a pale blue and turquoise green colour with purplish spotting. The average size for the eggs is 16.9mm x 12.2mm and have an average weight of between 1.3 and 1.4 grams.

Acrobatic common redpoll feeding from a tree

Acrobatic common redpoll feeding from a tree

What does a Common Redpoll sound like?

The song is a mixture of a long series of rising buzzy trills and twitters: chit-chit-chit-chewee, tu-tu-tu-tseeet, chit-chitchit-zeeeet.

The most common call is a 'djek-djek-djek' call. Other calls include a 'tsooeet', which gets higher pitched at the end, it is also usually followed by twittering.

The alarm call is a loud and abrupt 'chek' or 'tek' sound.

Common Redpoll Call

Andrew Harrop, XC642110. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/642110.

What is the habitat of a Common Redpoll?

During the breeding season, they prefer coniferous forests and scrub. They can also be found in towns in close proximity to humans, as this can provide an excellent food source.

In parts of central and western Europe, they are relatively common in parks and gardens.

Outside of the breeding season, they prefer open woodland and scrub (birch, alder and willow) but they can also be found in towns and villages and at the edge of fields.

Common redpoll pair

Common redpoll pair

Where do Common Redpolls live?

Common redpolls have a large range across northern parts of Europe, Asia, northern North America, Greenland and Iceland.

Breeding is mainly done in the northern parts of the above, with migration occurring to more southern parts of these regions in late autumn. They will then generally move back north from March.

Where can I see Common Redpolls?

North America

These birds nest in Alaska and parts of northern Canada. Between September and December, they migrate from the northern parts of their range into more southern parts of Canada and to the northern half of the United States where they are most common during the month of May.

How far south common redpolls travel in the US is determined by food supplies, and they can be found as far south as Colorado, Virginia and Missouri.

Back in the November of 2007, one of these birds was documented in New Mexico!

United Kingdom

In the UK, common redpolls are winter visitors. Generally, the best place to see them is on the east coast throughout autumn and winter. Birds will then search for food and move to the west, where they can find themselves inland in suitable habitats such as parks and gardens, where food is plentiful.

Do Common Redpolls migrate?

Common redpolls are partial migrants and can be found year-round in a select few suitable habitats.

Common redpoll on the ground searching for food

Common redpoll on the ground searching for food

Similar birds to a Common Redpoll

Other birds in the Finches family