Common Redpoll: Bird Species #152

After walking a little closer today to get a better look at the small birds in the birch trees, a “Wow” escaped my lips. I was watching a flock of Common Redpolls, a species that I had not previously obseved in Eliza Howell Park in my 16 years of watching birds here.

I immediately called bird photographer Margaret. I know of her interest in photographing Redpolls and I was hoping she could provide a photo record of this special Eliza Howell occasion. Fortunately, she was able to come quickly.

Photo by Margaret Weber.

The Redpolls were energetically feeding on the copious birch seed — and in no hurry to leave.

Photo by Margaret Weber.

With their small bills, Redpolls are specialists at harvestong seeds from trees, flowers, and grasses. Birch tree seeds are a favorite winter food. I am always impressed by the ability of birds to locate scattered patches of desired plants after flying hundreds of miles in migration.

The Common Redpoll is a bird that breeds in the far North. While range maps indicate that this is part of their wintering grounds, they are not at all common here, usually rarely seen in southern Michigan. This is shaping up as an exceptional year, when they are much more common. Since “irruption” years, when more of the northern birds than normal head south, are thought to be caused by a diminished food crop back home, it is good to see these Redpolls finding an abundance of food here in Detroit.

(The map is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)

Redpolls, both females and males, have black chins and red foreheads. (“Poll” is an old English word for head.) Males have a pinkish wash on the breast.

Photo by Margaret Weber.

Redpolls are almost always found in flocks, at least in winter. Today’s flock was made up of about 20 individuals, interacting with one another whenever they took a break from eating.

Photo by Margaret Weber.

It is always exciting to find a different bird species in Eliza Howell Park and doubly exciting when the new species is not common in southeast Michigan.

I lnow this flock will move on soon, but, since many seeds remain on the birches, perhaps they will be around for a few days.

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