Skip to content

Common redpolls have impressive way of adapting, thriving in winter (6 photos)

As we move forward toward spring, Common Redpolls can inspire us to adapt to the circumstances and thrive, says birder

As we approach mid-winter, we may be tiring of the cold. Perhaps assessing where we are at can benefit from a shift in perspective and adaptation. The appearance of Common Redpolls from the Arctic may be inspiring in this regard.

Common Redpolls are an abundant species. They spend most of their lives around the Arctic circle and in the boreal forest. When food gets scarce, they will descend south to various places in the world. This is called an irruption. Hoary Redpolls and Lesser Redpolls are cousins to Common Redpolls.

Allaboutbirds.org discusses just how wide ranging these birds are as evidenced by banding records. The site about Common Redpolls says, “A bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia; others in Alaska have been recovered in the eastern U.S., and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found 2 years later in China.”

Not only is their range remarkable, the small finches can survive temperatures of up to –54 Celsius. Just as we don warmer coats, Common Redpolls plumage weight grows by 31 percent in late fall. Both the male and female sport jaunty red caps. The male’s breast is rose-tinted; the female/juvenile’s is brown-streaked.

Besides added feathers, redpolls have a particularly impressive way of insulating from the cold. They can dig tunnels in the snow 6–11 cm (approx. 2.5-4.5inches) deep and 27–40cm (10-16inches) long, according to birdsoftheworld.org. To get out, they break the through the roof. How fun would it be to see that…or to do that? It does carry dangers, so maybe I should add: “Don’t try this at home”.

Common Redpolls are capable of doing something my younger self envies. When I was little, we had to stay at the table to finish what we were given to eat. I remember sitting there while siblings played, wishing I could pack my cheeks with the food and eat it later, as a chipmunk can. It turns out redpolls can do something similar.

They mostly eat seeds from trees and weeds. What’s cool is they have a pouch in their throats where they can store food for several hours. Audubon.org says, “This helps the bird in bitterly cold weather, allowing it to feed rapidly in the open and then digest food over a long period while it rests in a sheltered spot.”

Every winter I hope to see Common Redpolls. Some years, I have large numbers but they are erratic in their visits, depending on the availability seeds from spruce and birch trees in the north.

They mostly move in large flocks and are quite lively social visitors not shy around humans. This year, I have only seen one or two. I’m not sure why they were on their own, but I feel privileged they chose to visit. Although redpolls have small beaks and Nyjer seed is recommended for feeders, I find they eat sunflower seeds as well.

As we move forward toward spring, Common Redpolls can inspire us to adapt to the circumstances and thrive.

I share experiences of bird visitors to this property with readers every couple of weeks. Until next time, keep your eye to the sky, and look for birds that may come by.

Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, a storyteller, and a playwright. She blogs on her website rosiewrites.com