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The common redpoll (Acanthis Flammea) is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae, which breeds in the northern regions of Europe and Asia.

It is one of three species in the genus Acanthis, but is also often known as the mealy redpoll, and the common goldfinch, especially when placed within that group’s winter finch clade. Nonetheless, it is not closely related to the true goldfinches, which are genus Carduelinae.

Common Redpoll Identification

The common redpoll is a small bird, 11 to 13 cm in length. They have pale grey crowns and red forehead, with dark streaks on the back and breast, becoming white below. The rump is pinkish-red, while the tail and flight feathers are black.

Females have a dark-streaked buff head and neck with a pinkish face patch, whereas in males is a brighter red and the throat more streaked. They have a black bib under a pinkish face and chin.

Juvenile common redpolls are paler with duller upperparts, lack the dark patch on the breast and have white fringes to the tertial feathers.

Common Redpoll resting in its natural habitat
Common redpoll resting in its natural habitat

Where And When To See Them

The common redpoll is a frequent winter visitor to the UK, although it breeds further north in Scandinavia and Russia. In Scotland, they are most often seen in lowland coastal areas and marshes or on sea walls and gravel beaches.

They prefer heaths but will also occupy areas where natural food sources are abundant. Redpolls frequent open ground with bare patches where they feed mainly on small seeds, but also take berries and insects.

In winter, they can be found in areas with sufficient cover for their foraging requirements, usually in clearings or at woodland edges with a large amount of bare ground, such as a patch of waste ground close to woodland.

More widespread around bird tables in the countryside than in towns, the common redpoll can also be seen at garden feeding stations; most often singly or in pairs, during winter, at bird tables or on seed feeders.

Similar Species

Redpoll or Lesser Redpoll?

The lesser redpoll (Acanthis Cabaret) is a smaller but identical bird species with similar plumage and voice. The two birds are very similar in size, but can be distinguished by the amount of yellow on the male’s head, neck, and rump. It is unusual for two European finch species to look identical at first glance, but lesser redpolls have more yellow on their head than the similar common redpolls.

A lesser redpoll rests on a branch
A lesser redpoll on a branch, Warwickshire, UK

Redpoll or Linnet?

The linnet (Linaria Cannabina) is slightly larger, with a longer bill and more pointed wings. It has a yellow rump, and the male has no red on head but has yellow upper parts with some red streaks on the back.

Common linnet resting on a plant on meadow in summer
A common linnet

Diet

Their primary food is seeds, common in the bird’s natural habitat. However, the mealy redpoll is opportunistic and will move to feeders to take advantage of abundant food sources.

Behaviour

Common redpolls are highly gregarious birds. Like their closely related relatives, the goldfinches, redpolls tend to move in flocks. They are similar in behaviour to other finches, with their calls tending to be series of chips and occasional notes.

Herd of common redpolls flying fast in snowy winter over fields
Herd of common redpolls

Habitat Preferences

Common redpolls breed in open habitats such as fell-field and wet grasslands. Open country with scattered trees, bogs, marshes and other wetlands are also used for breeding.

In the cold temperatures of winter, this small finch distributes widely across Europe west to the UK, Scandinavia and eastern France. They prefer woodland edges, weedy fields, heathland and can be found in open habitats such as tundra, fell-field and wet grassland.

Breeding and Nesting

The male common redpoll will attract a female by feeding her during winter. The male will then mate with her for about one week. Shortly afterwards, the female will lay 5–7 eggs, which are around 13 mm long and 9 mm wide. They are pale buff, sometimes with small dark spots, particularly when fresh from the nest, which can be pecked out at the newly feathered stage by the female.

It is a typical meadow nesting species with a nest in a bushy location that is easy to defend. The nests are small cups of grass, thin twigs, mosses and lichens, which are lined with fine grass or sheep’s wool for padding, with an inner diameter of 5-7 cm.

Common redpoll on a sunny spring day
Common redpoll on a sunny spring day

Threats and Measures Taken To Protect Them

Adult common redpolls are predated by birds such as owls, but their nests and young are at risk from rats, mice and cats.

Are Redpolls Rare?

The common redpoll conservation status has been evaluated as being of “least concern”. There are currently no measures targeting the common redpoll, and they are widespread throughout their breeding season and range. Redpolls have been found in large numbers at sites in southern England and Wales for many years.

Sources and References

  1. Common Redpoll – nationalgeographic.com
  2. Identification of Lesser and Mealy Redpoll – faune-anjou.org

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