About Redpolls

Common Redpoll with a patch of red on its head.

Where Did My Redpolls Go? Learn More About the Redpoll’s Erratic Foraging Patterns and Find Out When You May See these Birds Again

Redpolls are a beloved backyard bird. An irruptive species, redpolls show up in flocks one year only to be absent from backyards for, seemingly, years at a time. Oddly enough, this species numbers in the tens of millions. The driving behavior behind the redpoll’s foraging behavior is food. Redpolls are found where the cone crop is plentiful.

Their erratic behavior makes them common feeder species during irruptive years. The last major irruption of redpolls was in the winter of 2012 – 2013 with another noteworthy irruption in the late winter of 2015. Common Redpolls are found year-round in parts of northern Canada and into Alaska. And have been seen as far south as Missouri and Kentucky. Redpolls forage and breed in their native Canadian territory and flock to the U.S. in search of food only when natural resources become scarce. 

“Unlike regular winter visitors, such as the Snow Bunting,” said Marie Read on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website All About Birds, “boreal irruptives are typically non-migratory, but occasionally they move south in large numbers—or irrupt—from their northern home. These movements might seem unpredictable from year to year, but actually they’re related to shortages of the tree seeds and berries that normally make up these birds’ winter food supplies.”

How can you identify a redpoll? Look for the brown and white streaked feathers with the red patch on the forehead (see the photo featured above). About the size of a goldfinch, redpolls are often seen feeding at finch feeders. When not at your Nyjer feeders, redpolls are also found in birch trees. 

The Common Redpoll looks similar to several other species of birds. How do you tell them apart? The Common Redpoll is the only one with a patch of red on its forehead. It’s worth noting, both the female and male redpolls have the iconic patch of red on their head. Between the male and female, the male has a rosy red breast, while the female has no red coloring on their breast. As you can see in the photo below, there’s one male redpoll (center, rosy red breast) with five female redpolls. Each redpoll species has black coloring around their yellow bill.

Attract redpolls and shop sunflower seed at duncraft.com.

As far as similar species are concerned, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when identifying birds. The Hoary Redpoll, another redpoll species, is a lot more pale in comparison. Pine Siskins have a lot more streaking in their feathers, without any red. The male House Finch has more red on its head, and the coloring is more spread out overall. The Purple Finch has reddish coloring all over. All of these species are similar, yet missing the red patch on the forehead. Look for the red patch on the head and you’ve found a redpoll!

Can you expect to see redpolls at your feeders this winter? According to Ron Pittaway’s popular Winter Finch Forecast 2017 – 2018, “[The Common Redpolls] should move south because White Birch and alder seed crops are below average in northern Ontario. However, as redpolls move south they likely will be slowed or stopped by abundant conifer seed crops and better birch crops. When redpolls discover your [Nyjer] seed feeders, feeding frenzies result.” As for the elusive Hoary Redpoll, Ron added, “Watch for Hoaries in flocks of Common Redpolls.”

When redpolls overwinter in the northern half of the U.S., they’re often seen at finch feeders. Their tiny bills are the perfect size for feeding from Nyjer feeders. Shop duncraft.com for Nyjer feeders and bird seed to attract redpolls

Watch the following video to see Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks, both male and female, feeding on black oil sunflower seed. Enjoy!

View the complete Winter Finch Forecast by Ron Pittaway. Happy Birding!

Written by Dawn Coutu



“Among the Alders,” Read, Marie. All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 15 Jan. 2013. 27 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/among-the-alders/>.

“Common Redpoll,” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2015. 27 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Redpoll/id>.

“From Many, One: How Many Species Of Redpolls Are There?” Axelson, Gustave. All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 30 Mar. 2015. 27 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/from-many-one-how-many-species-of-redpolls-are-there/>.

“Hoary Redpoll,” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2015. 28 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Hoary_Redpoll/id>.

“House Finch,” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2015. 28 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Finch/id>.

“Pine Siskin,” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2015. 28 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pine_Siskin/id>.

“Purple Finch,” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2015. 28 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Purple_Finch/id>.

“The Redpolls Are Coming! The Redpolls Are Coming! (And Siskins, Too),” Axelson, Gustave and Emma Grieg. All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 3 Feb. 2015. 27 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/the-redpolls-are-coming-the-redpolls-are-coming-and-siskins-too/>.

“Snowbird Season: An Irruption Of Boreal Songbirds,” Read, Marie. All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 15 Jan. 2009. 27 Dec. 2017. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/snowbird-season-an-irruption-of-boreal-songbirds/>.

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