Friday, January 11, 2013

January 3, 2013 Common and Hoary Redpolls: 4 subspecies found at my feeder in Carp,Ontario

This winter redpolls have arrived in eastern Ontario in large numbers. Small flocks were first observed during late November and increased throughout December feeding in weedy fields. Now with all the snow on the ground they have moved to bird feeders, feeding on niger seeds and sunflower. In the Ottawa area the Common Redpoll, C. flammea  is the most common, while Hoary Redpoll, C. hornemanni is rare but  a regular visitor during winters of large influxes of Common Redpoll. If you're fortunate to have bird feeders and lots of redpolls you may find a few surprises mixed in these flocks. Both redpolls species are comprised of 2 subspecies in North America.  There is the Southern Common Redpoll (C.f.flammea) and the Greater Common Redpoll (C.f.rostrata). The Southern Common Redpoll is our most abundant redpoll while the Greater Common Redpoll is rare/scarce.  There is a Southern Hoary Redpoll (C.h.exilipes) and Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll (C.h.hornemanni) The Southern Hoary Redpoll is rare in large flocks of redpolls while the Hornemann's is still considered the rarest of the 4 subspecies in eastern Ontario. 
On January 3rd while checking over a large flock of 150+ redpolls at our feeder Ben spotted a Greater Common Redpoll  feeding on the ground with other Southern Common Redpolls and a Southern Hoary Redpoll.  The redpoll was easy to pick out due to its noticeably larger size and darker plumage, (see photo #1 and #2) but the Southern Hoary Redpoll disappeared.  In typical fashion these highly flighty, nervous birds keep moving but I finally got to see it. I kept searching through the ever changing flock making comparisons and found a large pale redpoll at the niger feeder. Close examination revealed a Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll. (see photo# 3) The large size, paler plumage, smaller bill and white rump clinched it. I managed to get a couple of photos in direct comparison to a Southern Common Redpoll. Ben and I watched it and suddenly everything took off and it didn't return. Over the following days very few redpolls fed at the feeder until January 8th when I observed another  Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll at the niger feeder. Again excellent comparisons with Southern Common Redpoll showing larger size, small bill, over-all pale, clean white rump and under tail converts. Unfortunately the redpolls spooked before I could get a photo. Redpoll watching can be fun. If you have lots of time and patience, carefully scrutinize all your redpolls.  You will be amazed at what you can find! 
Good birding, Bruce

The Greater Common Redpoll is a rare visitor to feeders during the winter months. 

Its larger size, darker plumage and heavier streaking separates it from the very common Southern Common Redpoll. 

A immature female Hornemann's Hoary Redpoll  feeding with Southern Common Redpolls.  Note larger size,  paler plumage, and not in photo, white rump and plain white under-tail covert. 

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