Monday, February 21, 2011

Invasion of the Redpolls

I was about to take my dog out for a walk yesterday morning, when I decided to first check on the bird feeder on my deck -- and WHOA! Instead of the usual one or two chickadees and occasional white-breasted nuthatch,  a cloud of small birds competing for a perch was swirling around the tube feeder, and another flock was perched on the picnic table in the corner of the deck where I had spread out sunflower seeds. My first thought was Pine Siskins but then realized they were Common Redpolls with some Goldfinches mixed in.

I grabbed my camera and snuck out on the porch. I managed to get some photos through the window, but the camera setting was wrong and all shots came out dark and muddy. To do it properly I had to open the door to get a clear view. Of course when doing this the entire flock swirled up and up into the top of the oak tree nearby, and then gone altogether.  I expected them back though, couldn't imagine they would abandon such a rich food source. So I posted myself half hidden near the porch door with my camera on the ready, and sure enough the flock returned about five minutes later.



 

When the sun hits it just right the crown on these females turns a fiery orange red.




The red breast on this bird dignifies it's a male. Looking through my photos I realized most of the birds were probably females or immatures 


Some Redpolls, along with a couple of House Finches, were waiting their turn on the crab apple tree by the deck.
 



The House Finches kept a back seat on the tree until the Redpolls and Goldfinches had departed.  Above is a Redpoll, probably immature to judge by the absence of the black bib,  with a House Finch behind it. 

The flock of Redpolls was back and forth for about 30 min, intermittently taking off for no good reason that I could see, and finally left altogether. I didn't see any Hoary Redpolls.* Although Redpolls are the most common passerines in the northern tundra and boreal forest, there is little overlap with humans except during the winter. Over the past week I have seen numerous reports from all over New England of Redpolls turning up at the feeders. An irruption of Redpolls from northern Canada had been forecast in the fall:

Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast 2010-2011 published on eBird.org :
 "Redpolls in winter are a birch seed specialist and movements are linked in part to the size of the birch crop. The white birch crop is poor across much of northern Canada. Another indicator of an upcoming irruption was a good redpoll breeding season in 2010 with double and possibly triple broods reported in Quebec. High breeding success also was reported in Yukon. Samuel Denault of McGill University has shown that redpoll movements at Tadoussac, Quebec, are more related to reproductive success than to tree seed crops in the boreal forest. Redpolls will be attracted to the good birch seed crops on native white birch and European white birch in southern Ontario and to weedy fields. They should be frequent this winter at feeders offering nyger and black oil sunflower seeds. Watch for the larger, darker and browner "Greater" Common Redpolls (rostrata subspecies) in the flocks. It is reliably identified by its larger size and proportionally longer thicker bill and longer tail in direct comparison with "Southern" Common Redpolls (nominate flammea subspecies)."


For the Great Backyard Bird Count currently taking place over four days I counted 7 species:
Hairy Woodpecker - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 5
Tufted Titmouse - 2
Northern Cardinal - 1
House Finch - 4
Common Redpoll - 20
American Goldfinch - 12

Good Birding!

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.

* For a good discussion on the distinction between Common and Hoary Redpolls see David Sibley's  blog.


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39 comments:

  1. Hi Hilke
    I've had similar big flocks of common redpolls. they are skittish!

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  2. Thanks for the wonderful photos and info about redpolls. Lately too I had had only chickadees and nuthatches at my feeder but about 2 weeks ago, the redpolls came and I was so happy! They did not come last winter so I really missed them but I now am happy to hear their birdsong at my feeder!!

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  3. Cool you got so many of them Hilke... We have a lot of them around! I'm very happy sometime when they dare to pose for pictures, they are so nice!

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  4. @JoAnne, thanks. Wasn't it a nice surprise? Yes they are skittish, but I heard also they are easily tamed I remember a photo on Chris Petrak's blog of a hand feeding a Redpoll.

    @Katja, thanks for your visit! I thought in Ontario you'd see them every year. By the way, I enjoyed my visit to your blog. You have some great posts!

    @Chris, thanks! With their small beaks, the red baret and black bib, and their plump physique they are really cute. I was thrilled about their visit and glad I could get some photos.

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  5. One of my favorite winter birds! Excellent photos!

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  6. Haven't seen a redpoll yet, though I would love to! Great information in this post. Love the pics! I have counted birds in MA, now I am down in CT where I counted 14 species in my mother's yard this morning!

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  7. Wow, lucky you! I would love to see the redpolls. Your photos are just wonderful.

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  8. Absolutely great shots!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  9. Ahhh! I love their little raspberry berets! Wish some would fly down and visit my feeders! Beautiful captures...

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  10. Super set of images Hilke. We had an influx at the beginning of the year plus a fleeting visit in the garden but far too skitish for any pics.
    I guess this species has pushed southwards due to the harsher northern conditions and lack of its staple diet.

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  11. Great information and awesome photos! Birds like this make you appreciate winter!

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  12. I have never seen a Redpoll so I really enjoyed your information and the great details shots.
    Glad you had a good Count!

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  13. Aren't they such lovely little birds! What a wonderful surprise to find at your feeders!

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  14. This is great, Hilke. I have been invaded these past few days, too. I can't get enough of these little cuties, either. I have been scouring their droves every day looking for a Hoary redpoll, but so far, no luck. Not that I'm complaining! Nice post and great pics you have hear.

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  15. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. The Redpoll encounter made my day! Now everything is quiet again and their sudden appearance out of no-where seems like a dream.

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  16. Such welcome garden visitors.
    Lovely little birds, and great close ups.

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  17. Latest post in Sibley's blog shows four different redpoll taxa in one photo.
    http://tinyurl.com/6zbxhnp

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  18. Hilke,
    Just found you on WBW! How funny! You and I are definitley travelling in the same circles. :) I'm in excellent company.

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  19. I guess it's a very selective birding blog world, Robin. Where's your link!

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  20. How nice to have all those beautiful little birds come in to your feeders. Great photos. I especially like the ones where you can see the seeds in the beaks.

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  21. Hilke these sre stunnig images of a beautiful little bird. I have never got near enough to Redpolls to even get a decent record shot.

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  22. well would you believe it Hilke you have the same delights as I dio at the moment.

    I have 40+ Lesser Redpolls visiting daily for the last 3 months and a single Common (Mealy) Redpoll visiting for the last 75 days. The Mealy is a county Rarity here in Cheshire UK so I had to advise the county recorder.

    I have got to know these birds behaviour very well over the winter and have to say I love them to bits... such a smashing species.

    I share your delight and excitment

    Very well done

    Dave

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  23. Thank you, Mick, Andrew and Dave. I am awaiting their return and after reading David Sibley's article maybe I'll find a Hoary, or Mealy. Redpoll yet.

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  24. You played the situation perfectly Hilke and got your pictures. That was a great article and explains your exciting visitation.

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  25. Awesome Redpoll shots. I need to tour VT in the winter. U get cool birds.

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  26. They are so gorgeous!
    Glad they came back and you got your reward for your patience :)
    Beautiful shots!

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  27. I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count too! It was awesome! The most I counted were 15 species.

    It was well worth the wait- your photos are great! And what a beautiful little bird!

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  28. ahh, such a cute series. The look he's got in that 5th shot is pretty adorable !

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  29. I would love to see some of these lovely little birds among the Goldfinches and House Finches at our feeders. You got some great shots!

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  30. ITs such a beautiful bird and your photos show them off wonderfully!

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  31. They are so beautiful and your captures are fantastic.

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  32. Very nice, I love it when Redpolls show up.

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  33. I've been looking and hoping but haven't been seeing.Great redpoll photos-lucky you!

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  34. Cracking birds the Redpoll. We have had a large influx of them over here in the UK this winter.

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  35. Thanks for dropping by my blog, you have some fantastic images here, only too pleased to link back.

    Paul :-)

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  36. WOWZER! I would love that kind of surprise at my feeder!! You got some really beautiful shots!

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  37. Wow! That was a morning miracle! How wonderful.

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  38. Thanks for the photos! Saw a bird at our feeder yesterday and knew it was different. Finally, a Redpoll? Google Images sent me to you. A new bird for our Yard List! Thanks again. Marie in West Michigan :)

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