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Hoary Redpoll Life History



Hoary Redpolls nest in areas of tundra that have scattered shrubs or stunted trees such as willow, birch, or alder. They use both dry areas and wetter tundra, sometimes nesting along creeks or rivers. Compared with Common Redpolls, Hoary Redpolls often select more barren or higher-elevation habitats for nesting. After the breeding season, Hoary Redpolls gather in flocks and wander in search of food, usually north of (or above) treeline, occasionally showing up in populated areas with seed-rich fallow fields. Some Hoary Redpolls overwinter in windswept areas near their nesting grounds, enduring brutally cold temperatures, months of darkness, and very high winds. On an approximately 2-year cycle, Common Redpolls irrupt southward to more populated areas, and Hoary Redpolls sometimes take part in these movements as well.

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Hoary Redpolls feed on seeds, buds, and catkins of Arctic plants, including trees, shrubs, weeds, and grasses. They also eat insects and spiders during the warmer months. They are energetic little birds, clinging to slender branches and stems, often suspended upside down as they strip seeds or probe for insects. They also forage on the ground, hopping around to pick up windblown seeds. When foraging, they usually tolerate others of their species, but on occasion they threaten each other with open bills, or even clash physically to defend a food source. Foods include seeds of birch, alder, willow, cottongrass, knotweed, pigweed, wood-rush, stink grass, and various sedges (genus Carex). Especially when feeding young, they eat larval and adult flies, moths, and butterflies.

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Nest Placement


Typically nests in shrubs or stunted trees (2­–3 feet above ground), sometimes near water. Also nests in rocky crevices, cavities in driftwood, or directly on the ground.

Nest Description

The female builds the nest, a rather large cup of stems, down, or twigs of willow, alder, and cottongrass and other grasses, along with rootlets, fur, and feathers. Nests average about 4 inches across and 3 inches tall, with interior cup 1.9 inches across and 1.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-6 eggs
Egg Description:

Pale green to pale blue, with dark spots and speckles at large end.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless and with little down.

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Foliage Gleaner

Male Hoary Redpolls court females by singing and hovering above them, flying back and forth in small, shallow arcs. Receptive females respond by calling and fluttering the wings rapidly, much like a begging chick, and males then often feed their prospective mate. This courtship feeding continues as the female lays eggs and incubates them. Although Hoary Redpolls generally seem monogamous in their mating system, there are reports of females being fed at the nest by three different males, and this species often travels in small flocks even during the height of the nesting season. After nesting, Hoary Redpolls gather in roving flocks of a few to a few dozen birds, sometimes joining with Common Redpolls, seldom with other species.

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Low Concern

The Hoary Redpoll breeds and winters in very remote regions, so almost nothing is known about its population trends. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 28 million and rates the species an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Because this species is nomadic and lives in the remote arctic, it is relatively unthreatened by development. However, climate change is likely to have a profound impact on the extent and quality of its habitat.

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Knox, Alan G. and Peter E. Lowther. (2000). Hoary Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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