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Common Redpoll

Acanthis flammea ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

As energetic as their electric zapping call notes would suggest, Common Redpolls are active foragers that travel in busy flocks. Look for them feeding on catkins in birch trees or visiting feeders in winter. These small finches of the arctic tundra and boreal forest migrate erratically, and they occasionally show up in large numbers as far south as the central U.S. During such irruption years, redpolls often congregate at bird feeders (particularly thistle or nyjer seed), allowing delightfully close looks.

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Keys to identification Help

Finches
Finches
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Common Redpolls are small songbirds with small heads and small, pointed, seed-eating bills. The tail is short with a small notch at the tip.

  • Color Pattern

    Common Redpolls are brown and white birds with heavily streaked sides. Look for a small red forehead patch, black feathering around a yellow bill, and two white wingbars. Males have a pale red vest on the chest and upper flanks.

  • Behavior

    Redpolls travel in flocks of up to several hundred individuals. They move frenetically, foraging on seeds in weedy fields or small trees one minute and swirling away in a mass of chattering birds the next. Their buzzy zap and rising dreeee calls are distinctive.

  • Habitat

    Look for Common Redpolls in northern habitats ranging from willow flats to open conifer forest to open, weedy fields. They visit backyard bird feeders as well, especially during the winter.

Range Map Help

Common Redpoll Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Common Redpoll

    Adult male
    • Small, compact-bodied finch
    • Red cap with rosy tinge on breast of males
    • Small, conical yellow bill
    • Black on face at base of bill
    • © Yves Dery, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, February 2011
  • Adult female

    Common Redpoll

    Adult female
    • Small, stocky finch
    • Short, conical yellow bill
    • Red cap
    • Black face at base of bill
    • © hikerboy45, Omega Park, Montebello, Quebec, Canada, March 2009
  • Adult male

    Common Redpoll

    Adult male
    • Small, stocky finch
    • Red cap and rosy wash on breast and flanks
    • Dark streaks on sides of breast
    • Small yellow bill
    • © Laura Erickson, Saks-Zim Bog, Minnesota, January 2009
  • Adult female

    Common Redpoll

    Adult female
    • Small and stocky finch with red cap
    • Brown streaks on back and sides of breast
    • Very small yellow bill
    • Black face at base of bill
    • © John Rowe, Center Ossipee, New Hampshire, December 2010
  • Adult male

    Common Redpoll

    Adult male
    • Small, compact finch with very short, yellow bill
    • Red cap
    • Males show rosy wash on breast
    • © Laura Erickson, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota, March 2011
  • Adult female

    Common Redpoll

    Adult female
    • Small finch with red cap
    • Brown streaking on sides of breast gives "vested" appearance
    • Short, conical yellow bill
    • Black below and behind bill
    • © Bill McMullen, Clarence-Rockland, Ontario, Canada, March 2011
  • Adult male

    Common Redpoll

    Adult male
    • Small and compact with red cap
    • Males show rosy wash on breast
    • Pale belly with streaks on sides of breast
    • Black at base of conical yellow bill
    • © Mike Wisnicki, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, January 2010
  • Adult female

    Common Redpoll

    Adult female
    • Small, stocky finch
    • Red cap and black on face at base of bill
    • Small, conical yellow bill
    • Streaking on sides of breast gives "vested" appearance
    • © Bob, Cedarburg, Wisconsin, February 2009
  • Adult female

    Common Redpoll

    Adult female
    • Small, compact finch with tiny yellow bill
    • Red cap
    • Pale brown above with streaks on back
    • Streaks on sides of white breast
    • © Putneypics, Westminster West, New Hampshire, December 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult female

    Hoary Redpoll

    Adult female
    • Similar to Common Redpoll but much paler overall
    • Smaller bill
    • Black at base of bill contrasts with paler white face
    • Streaking much fainter, mostly absent on lower belly/undertail coverts
    • © Andy Johnson, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, June 2010
  • Adult

    Pine Siskin

    Adult
    • More elongated and shorted-tailed than Common Redpoll
    • Longer, more pointed bill
    • No red on crown, and bright yellow stripes on wings
    • Darker, denser streaking on breast and belly
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, January 2010
  • Adult male

    House Finch

    Adult male
    • Larger than Common Redpoll with stockier, darker bill
    • Reddish wash on face and breast, not confined to crown
    • Heavier streaking more densely distributed on underparts
    • © Raymond Belhumeur
  • Adult female

    House Finch

    Adult female
    • Larger than Common Redpoll with heavier, darker bill
    • Dense streaking all over breast and belly
    • No red cap or black on face
    • © Bill Thompson, Hadley, Massachusetts, December 2011
  • Adult male

    Purple Finch

    Adult male
    • Larger and heaver-bodied than Common Redpoll
    • Thicker, darker bill
    • Bright rosy-purple wash all over head and breast
    • Peaked crown
    • © Thomas Klak/PFW, December 2005
  • Adult female

    Purple Finch

    Adult female
    • Obviously larger than Common Redpoll with much heavier, darker bill
    • Bold facial pattern
    • No red on crown
    • © Dawn Vornholt, Roswell, Georgia, December 2010
  • Nonbreeding adult female

    American Goldfinch

    Nonbreeding adult female
    • Similar in shape to Common Redpoll but with more olive and yellow tones
    • Smooth plumage with no streaks
    • Bold wingbars
    • No red cap
    • © Bill Thompson, Hadley, Massachusetts, January 2012

Similar Species

Hoary Redpolls live even farther north than Common Redpolls; when you see them, they are likely to be with flocks of Common Redpolls. Hoaries are paler overall than Common Redpolls, with whiter rumps, less dark flank streaking, and even smaller bills. Pine Siskins are darker overall and more heavily streaked, with almost no white visible; they also have longer bills than redpolls. American Goldfinches in winter are more smoothly patterned in brown and yellow tones, with darker wings and bold wingbars. They lack the streaking and the red forehead of Common Redpolls. House Finches, Purple Finches, and Cassin’s Finches are all larger than Common Redpolls, have much heavier bills, and lack bold wingbars; unlike the redpolls’ small patches of red, the males of these finches have red covering the whole crown and chest.

Regional Differences

Common Redpolls from Greenland are larger and darker than those breeding in Alaska and Canada.

Backyard Tips

Common Redpolls eat seeds of a size to match their small bills. They’re particularly likely to come to thistle or nyjer feeders, though they may also take black oil sunflower or scavenge opened seeds left behind by larger-billed birds.

Find This Bird

Most people in North America get to see Common Redpolls only in the winter, when the birds come to feeders or forage on small seeds in trees or in weedy fields. Listen for their sharp, buzzy call notes and energetic trills and chatters. Keep in mind that they often form fairly large flocks that seem constantly in motion.

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