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Hoary Redpoll

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Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll

Nick Saunders

A hardy Arctic finch, the hoary redpoll is distinguished from its more southerly "common" cousin not only by the majority of its range but also by its whiter plumage that gives it an icy, frosted appearance. These birds often appear fluffier than other finches as well, since fluffing provides them with better insulation against extreme cold.

Common Name:

Hoary Redpoll, Arctic Redpoll

Scientific Name:

Carduelis hornemanni

Scientific Family:

Fringillidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Stubby conical shape, sharply pointed, yellow and may show a black tip
  • Size: 5-6 inches long with 9-inch wingspan, round body, medium length tail
  • Colors: White, red, brown, buff, black, gray, pink, yellow
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have pale frosty white underparts with very faint gray or black streaks on the flanks and a pink wash on the throat and upper breast. The upperparts are streaked brown and black but the rump is a plain, unstreaked white. The wings are darker with two white wing bars, and a black chin and black lores give the bird the appearance of a small mask framing the yellow bill. The crown is a bright red. Females are similar to males but have no pink wash on the breast and have slightly more streaking on the underparts.

    Juvenile birds are similar to adults but show darker streaking and more buff coloration on the face and breast, and they lack any pink on the breast.

Foods:

Seeds, insects (See: Granivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

These northern finches are typically found in high Arctic areas with scattered brushy scrub or weedy patches, either with coniferous trees or mixed coniferous and deciduous growth, and they are often seen on the open tundra. They are found year-round in the northern Arctic from northern Alaska to Greenland, Scandinavia and Russia. In summer, the hoary redpoll's breeding range may extend even further north. The winter range for these birds is much larger, extending through the boreal region of Canada and similar ranges in northern Europe. Irregular winter irruptions can bring these birds further south, as far as the central United States and similar ranges in Europe.

Vocalizations:

These finches have a high musical chittering call, as well as a rattling buzz and a "questioning" call with long single syllables that rise in pitch at the end.

Behavior:

These are gregarious birds year-round and are often found in flocks. The flocks are larger and will be mixed with other finches and common redpolls in the winter, particularly for feeding. While foraging, hoary redpolls scratch on the ground or glean in bushes and trees, often showing acrobatic stretches or contortions to reach choice seeds.

These are curious and brave birds and while they aren't often seen in backyards, they are unafraid when they do arrive and have even been known to perch on hands or shoulders while waiting for food.

Reproduction:

These are monogamous birds that nest in loose colonies, often with multiple nests in the same general area without difficulty or aggression. The female parent builds a cup-shaped nest of twigs, grass and small roots lined with finer materials such as grasses and plant down. The nest is typically positioned directly on the ground sheltered by rocks or deep inside a low bush for cover. The eggs are oval-shaped and range from light blue to a faint blue-green color and are often marked with dark reddish or brown spots heavier at the egg's larger end. There can be 1-6 eggs per brood, and 1-2 broods may be laid each year.

The female parent incubates the eggs for 9-12 days, but after hatching both parents feed the altricial young for an additional 9-15 days until they are able to leave the nest and begin foraging on their own.

Hoary redpolls have been recorded hybridizing with common redpolls.

Attracting Hoary Redpolls:

These are not common backyard birds because of their extreme northern range, but when they do venture further south in winter they are attracted to finch-friendly backyards that offer foods such as Nyjer, millet and sunflower seeds. Leaving fall bushes unpruned or adding a brush pile for winter shelter can also help these birds feel safe and secure.

Conservation:

Because the breeding habitat and year-round range of these finches is difficult to access, little is known about their overall population numbers though it is not believed they are in any conservation danger. Hoary redpolls are not listed as threatened or endangered, but continued protection of their Arctic range, particularly from chemical or petroleum drilling or development, may be necessary to ensure their breeding success.

Similar Birds:

  • Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
  • Common Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

Photo – Hoary Redpoll © Nick Saunders

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