• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

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.

Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.
Become a Discovery Partner

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
4.7–5.5 in
12–14 cm
Wingspan
7.5–8.7 in
19–22 cm
Weight
0.4–0.7 oz
11–20 g
Relative Size
About the size of an American Goldfinch.
Other Names
  • Sizerin flammé (French)
  • Pardillo sizerín (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Common Redpolls can survive temperatures of –65 degrees Fahrenheit. A study in Alaska found Redpolls put on about 31 percent more plumage by weight in November than they did in July.
  • During winter, some Common Redpolls tunnel into the snow to stay warm during the night. Tunnels may be more than a foot long and 4 inches under the insulating snow.
  • Next time you have access to a globe, take a look at it from the top. Common Redpolls breed around the world in the lands that ring the Arctic Ocean. There’s a lot of land up there! Though many of us struggle to see a few redpolls each winter, worldwide their numbers are estimated in the tens of millions.
  • Animal behaviorists commonly test an animal’s intelligence by seeing if it can pull in a string to get at a hanging piece of food. Common Redpolls pass this test with no trouble. They’ve also been seen shaking the seeds out of birch catkins, then dropping to the ground to pick them up from the flat snow surface.
  • Redpolls have throat pouches for temporarily storing seeds. They may fill their pouches with seeds quickly then fly away to swallow the seeds in a more protected, warmer spot.
  • Some studies show that in winter redpolls subsist almost entirely on a diet of birch seeds. They eat up to 42 percent of their body mass every day. They can store up to about 2 grams (0.07 oz.) of seeds in a stretchy part of their esophagus, enough for about a quarter of their daily energy requirement.
  • A few banding records have shown that some Common Redpolls are incredibly wide ranging. Among them, a bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia; others in Alaska have been recovered in the eastern U.S., and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found 2 years later in China.
  • The oldest known Common Redpoll was 7 years 10 months old.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Common Redpolls breed worldwide in the far northern latitudes, in open woods of pine, spruce, alder, birch, and willow up to about 5,000 feet elevation. In the essentially treeless tundra they find hollows and shelters where deciduous shrubs or conifers can gain a foothold. They also live around towns. Most people get to see them in winter, when redpolls move south. In their winter range, which can be extremely variable as the birds seek unpredictable food sources, redpolls occur in open woodlands, scrubby and weedy fields, and backyard feeders.

Food


Seeds

Common Redpolls eat mainly small seeds, typically of trees such as birch, willow, alder, spruces, and pines, but also of grasses, sedges, and wildflowers such as buttercups and mustards, and occasional berries. During summer they also eat considerable numbers of spiders and insects. Winter diet is largely birch and alder seeds or, at feeders, millet and thistle or nyjer seed.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–7 eggs
Number of Broods
1-3 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.8 in
1.4–2 cm
Egg Width
0.4–0.6 in
1.1–1.4 cm
Incubation Period
11 days
Nestling Period
9–16 days
Egg Description
Pale green to pale blue, spotted with purple
Condition at Hatching
Naked and helpless.
Nest Description

The female builds the nest on a foundation of small twigs laid across thin branches. She makes the nest from grasses, fine twigs, roots, and tree moss. She lines the nest with a thick layer of ptarmigan or Spruce Grouse feathers, or with hair, lemming fur, wool, or downy plant material. The finished nest is up to 4 inches across with a nest cup of about 2.5 inches diameter and 2 inches deep. Redpolls may take material from old nests to make new ones, but typically do not reuse old nests.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Females do most of the searching for nest sites. They place their nests over thin horizontal branches or crotches in spruces, alders, and willows. Nests tend to be low to the ground or, on the tundra, placed on driftwood, rock ledges, or other low ground cover.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Common Redpolls are energetic little birds that forage in flocks, gleaning, fluttering, or hanging upside down in the farthest tips of tree branches. Like many finches, they have an undulating, up-and-down pattern when they fly. To keep order in flocks, redpolls have several ways of indicating their intentions. When quarreling with flockmates, a redpoll fluffs its plumage, faces its adversary, and opens its bill, sometimes jutting its chin to display the black face patch. Males court females but flying in slow circles while calling and singing. Males may feed females during courtship. You may see small flocks of this social species even during the breeding season; during migration they may group into the thousands. In winter, some redpolls roost in tunnels under the snow, where the snowpack provides insulation and stays much warmer than the night air.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Common Redpolls are numerous; Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 160 million, with 22 percent found in the U.S., and 17 percent in Canada. They rate a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and they are not on the 2012 Watch List. These birds breed in the far north, away from large numbers of humans and many of their environmental impacts. When they come south to visit more densely populated areas, they can succumb to salmonella infections at feeders. In Europe, they have been trapped for food and to keep as cage birds, although this is less common today. It remains to be seen what changes climate change may cause for their boreal and tundra habitat.

Credits

Range Map Help

Common Redpoll Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Irruptive migrant. Common Redpolls move south irregularly in winter following patterns in food supply. Along with Pine Siskins they are among the best known finches to do this. On a roughly 2-year cycle, redpolls come far south in winter and occasionally reach the central or southern United States. The movements generally correspond to the availability of seeds.

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.

You Might Also Like

Snowbird Season. Story and photographs in Living Bird magazine.

Among the Alders: Story in Living Bird magazine.