Common Redpoll Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsCommon 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. Back to top

Food

Food SeedsCommon 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. Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest ShrubFemales 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.

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.

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.
Back to top

Behavior

Behavior Foliage GleanerCommon 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.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low ConcernCommon Redpolls are numerous. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 160 million, with 17% spending some part of the year in Canada, and 22% wintering in the U.S. They rate a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and they are not on the 2014 State of the Birds 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. Back to top

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 out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Back to top

Credits

Knox, Alan G. and Peter E. Lowther. 2000. Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea), 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. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

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

Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

Back to top