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Bird Watch: Common Redpoll

By Brian M. Collins
Published: November 1, 2009
Common Redpoll Male-800
Common Redpoll – Male
Photo by Brian M. Collins
Birds fly south for the winter, right? Not always. Adapted to harsh winters and unpredictable food sources, the common redpoll is a bird that migrates as free (pardon the pun) as a bird.

Redpolls are supremely flexible in behavior, appearing suddenly in places that haven’t seen them for years. They descend, unexpectedly, in great flocks upon bird feeders, much to the delight of those cabin owners who put thistle seeds into their birdfeeders in winter.

Closely related to goldfinches, the common redpoll is a tiny bird with a metallic, ruby red crown and, sometimes, raspberry pink sides. Females in the flocks make musical, rising whining notes and tend to twitter in flight. Males also sing in the flocks, contributing to the chorus with energetic trills.
Common Redpoll Female-800
Common Redpoll – Female
Photo by Brian M. Collins
Flocks of redpolls descend on birches in the winter and feed enthusiastically on catkins, leaving thousands of tiny, brown, star-like petals on the freshly fallen snow. When one flies, the whole flock lifts in a chattering, undulating whirl.

The common redpoll is a bird of opportunity; it breeds in open Canadian subarctic forests and winters from northern Canada to places as warm and far south as Missouri and southern Illinois, ranging freely from coast to coast. Perhaps, this winter, it will send opportunity your way.
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