Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Another Northern Visitor: Redpoll

Though I love all birds,* and though I delight in even the common Chickadees and Titmice that visit our feeder, I admit to a special thrill when a rarity shows up. In the winter, the presence of a few special visitors from northern climes is a real treat.

This morning, two Common Redpolls showed up at the nyjer feeder. I was able to get a few photos of one of them:

This bird is aptly named: Redpoll. “Poll” means head, so this little finch is a Red-Head. It’s about five inches from its red poll to the end of its tail. It’s a seed-eater; they’ll glean seeds from grasses, weeds, and trees such as birch, and readily visit feeders stocked with small seeds such as nyjer. They often associate with Goldfinches and Pine Siskins.

Redpolls breed in the very far north, coming south to our region only when food supplies in the north are scarce. This southern movement, called an “irruption,” happens only on an irregular basis, and when it does, it happens in a big way: redpolls are being reported all over New England, to the delight of birders. There was a big movement of Pine Siskins in the fall; we had them at our feeders for several days before they moved on. Right now, Pine Grosbeaks are also moving south, as they exhaust their food supplies. Reports are coming in all across Massachusetts, and a few sightings have been reported in Connecticut. A single female-type Pine Grosbeak stopped briefly in our yard in November.

* I exclude from “I love all birds” those destructive invasives such as European Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Dove, Monk Parakeet, etc. The best I can say for Rock Doves is that some of them are pretty and that they have supported the comeback of Peregrine Falcons in our cities. Starlings? Mozart had one for a pet; they are good mimics and he enjoyed his little bird's ability to memorize musical phrases. Their winter adult plumage is intriguing. They engage in murmurations, spectacular flights. House Sparrows? They help sustain the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks in my neighborhood.

If you ever wonder how some of the invasive bird species got here, read this brief ditty about the role of House Sparrows in sustaining the local hawk population, read here:

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