The lesser redpoll is a small finch that gets its name from its vibrant red cap over its forehead. Its plumage is otherwise pale brown with darker brown streaks. The flanks are buff with dark streaks and the belly and undertail coverts are whiteish. Wing feathers are generally brown with two, pale whitish wingbars. The adult male during breeding season has pink on the breast and face. The female lacks this but is similar in appearance to the male. Lesser redpolls have a bulky bill, characteristic of the Finch family, and below this a black chin. Juveniles have a pale head and lack the red forehead.
The lesser redpoll’s call, usually given in flight, is a hard, metallic ‘chett-chett-chett’. It also has a plaintive alarm call. Its song is a trilling call interspersed with a dry ‘serrrrrr’.
Lesser Redpoll Call/Song
Marcin Dyduch, XC620926. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/620926.
The lesser redpoll feeds primarily on seeds, especially conifer seeds. It will hang upside down gripping on with its strong feet to branches to get at trickier meals. In winter, flocks will favour alder and birch trees. It will also eat fruit, buds and invertebrates.
Lesser Redpoll on a garden feeder
The best time to see lesser redpolls is in the winter when they are better revealed by the bare trees. Their traditional habitat was predominantly woodland, but increasingly they are known to visit gardens. The species is relatively widespread in Scotland, Wales and northern England. It is less common in other areas of England but can be seen there in winter, when it moves to lowland areas. The RSPB reserve Arthog Bog in the Mawddach Valley in Wales can be a good place to see the lesser redpoll.
Lesser redpolls are perhaps easiest to see in winter months when they flock together and the trees in which they feed have lost their leaves. Migrating birds in spring and autumn are sometimes found in short vegetation replenishing their energy for the onward journey. Lesser redpolls are gregarious and often group in flocks to forage for food.
Lesser redpolls will pair up for breeding in late winter, forming loose colonies of several nest sites. Females will take charge of nest building, constructing a cup-shaped nest that consists of an outer layer of twigs and plant stems; an inner layer of roots, grass and moss; and a lining of feathers, wool and hair. She will lay 4-6 pale eggs that have rust coloured blotches and streaks. She will incubate these for 10-12 days while being fed by the male. The young then have fledgling period of 11-14 days and are fed by both parents during this time. Parents can raise 2 broods a year.
Lesser redpolls have a lifespan of around 2 years but can live up to 7 years.
The lesser redpoll is a short-distance migrant, with many birds wintering ion their breeding range. In Britain, some birds will travel from hilly landscape homes to more lowland areas and can consequently be found across central and south England. Some braver British birds will also travel as far south as Iberia.
Lesser redpolls are on the UK’s Red List of Conservation Concern. Their breeding population has declined and they are much less common than they once were. There is thought to be a UK breeding population of around 220,000 pairs.
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