The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 11, 2008


Biodiversity Corner - Common Redpoll

(Photo by Eric Cote)
I chose the Common Redpoll this week because this is one of those years when there are unusually large numbers of them around and your chances of seeing one are relatively high. The Christmas Bird Count indicates population spikes occurring every few years in Carlisle with the last one being in 1999. It is only a coincidence that this spike has occurred in the midst of the political primaries — the Common Redpoll has nothing to do with polling voters, in red states or blue. The word "poll" has many meanings and the operative one, from the American Heritage dictionary, is "the head, especially the top of the head where hair grows."

Name. The Common Redpoll is a finch with the scientific name Carduelis flammea. The Pine Siskin and the American Goldfinch are closely related to the Common Redpoll and are also members of the genus, Carduelis.

When and where seen. On December 30, two separate sightings of Redpolls were made as part of the annual Christmas Bird Count (see above). Cecile DeRouin had a flock of 18 visit her bird feeder on Estabrook Road and Don and Greg Southall reported another eight off River Road. On January 5, Ken Harte counted 28 again visiting Cecile's bird feeder. Cecile remarked, "They come most days, usually in the morning, and in varying numbers. They visit both the thistle seed feeder and the hulled sunflower feeder. The flock clearly includes adult males."

Identification. The Common Redpoll is a small bird with brown streaks and is about the same size as a goldfinch. They have small conical yellow bills, black chins and a little red patch on the top of the head. The adult males stand out in a flock because they have deep pink breasts and fewer brown streaks.

The Hoary Redpoll looks very much like the Common Redpoll but is seldom seen around here. It could be here and could be in with a flock of Common Redpolls. If you notice a Redpoll that is paler than the others and has finer fainter brown streaks, it may be a Hoary and Ken Harte would like to hear about it.

Feeding. Common Redpolls are seed eaters. They particularly like tiny seeds like those of birch, willow, alder and various weeds. Your best chance of attracting them to bird feeders is with thistle seed. They are able to gather up many seeds at a time and store them temporarily in a throat pouch. They can then fly off to a place with more protection and eat the seeds in this safer location.

Breeding range. Like the Snow Buntings, the Common Redpolls think Carlisle is a nice place to visit, but they wouldn't want to live here. Carlisle falls within their winter range. They will leave to breed in northern Canada and Alaska around the end of March.

References. Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley; Cornell Lab of Ornithology at

Topics for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. What are you finding? Write the whole column or just send a note or a photo to Kay Fairweather at

2008 The Carlisle Mosquito