The one special redpoll that got away

Posted Feb. 25, 2009, at 6:07 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:05 a.m.

Last week I had about 150 redpolls at my feeders and feeding on the ground. They were feeding on millet and spilled nyger seeds on the snow. I was delighted — until then, only a few redpolls had come to my feeder this year.

Common redpolls are tiny birds, streaky on the back and the sides, with a rosy-colored spot on their heads. They are in the finch family, closely related to goldfinches and pine siskins. The females and young birds’ breasts are white, and the adult males have a bright pink breast.

Back in January, while snowshoeing in Bangor, I saw thousands of tiny birch seeds on top of the deep snow, each seed about a millimeter long. Up close, the seeds looked like tiny flies with transparent wings on each side. I like to call this “the sign of the redpoll.”

If you see thousands of birch seeds on the snow, the redpolls have been overhead, perched in the trees, having a feast.

As I snowshoed along, I came upon about 100 redpolls in birch trees. I watched them as they perched, reaching upward, reaching over or reaching downward with their heads and bills to eat those tiny birch seeds.

In the woods, I couldn’t study each one. They were high up in the tops of trees, against the sky.

At home, I could study each and every redpoll at my feeder. That’s because I wanted to find a hoary redpoll among the many common redpolls.

Only three times in my life I have spotted a hoary redpoll in Maine. To get an ID of a hoary redpoll accepted into a birding data base, one has to submit a good photo or a very detailed description.

I hoped to see another one. Suddenly I spotted a lighter individual among the other redpolls. Instantly the big flock flew away — they all disappeared. A predator must have come by, perhaps a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk. There goes my chance to find a hoary redpoll. Oh, well.

After that big flock of redpolls left, no flock of that size has come to my feeders again — only flocks of about 20 redpolls. And no bleached-out redpoll has appeared again. But I’m still hoping to see another hoary redpoll.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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