posted October 9th, 2009; last edited November 18th, 2010 –– David Sibley

Redpolls - main page

Common Redpoll  Carduelis flammea

Hoary Redpoll  Carduelis exilipes

Redpoll Identification notes

Distinguishing Common and Hoary Redpolls is extremely challenging, as the differences are small and subjective, and debate continues over whether the two should be considered separate species. Redpoll identification is the subject of a series of my blog posts here. Posts are listed below in chronological order. Posts about redpoll subspecies (lower down on this page) also cover some important identification details:

Redpoll Identification – December 1, 2007

“If you have a chance to study some redpolls and want to look for Hoary, here are some tips:…”

My Holiday (Redpoll) Photos – January 1, 2008

“…it will be difficult to identify the more subtle Hoary Redpolls unless you get a really good look at the whole bird and have looked carefully at many other redpolls, but there is definitely a clean, pale overall appearance that is associated with Hoary.”

More on Redpolls – January 1, 2008

“In other words, the differences are very slight, and there is extensive overlap, with the largest-billed Hoary matching the average Common and the smallest-billed Common matching the average Hoary.”

The Redpoll Questions – January 2, 2008

“…I think people ask the general question “How can I identify a Hoary?” when what they mean is the more specific question “Just how pale/small-billed/unstreaked does a redpoll have to be before I can feel good about calling it a Hoary?”

A couple of Redpoll additions – January 2, 2008

“Some other recent Hoary photos…”

A Character Index for Redpoll identification – January 5, 2008

“…the character index is probably the best way to classify redpolls, and it can certainly be used in the field” even though scores will vary with season and with observers.

Comments on two redpolls – January 8, 2008

“I’m reposting here some comments I just sent to ID-Frontiers, about a pale redpoll in Illinois and another in Massachusetts…”

Urging caution when identifying Common Redpolls – January 14, 2008

“There’s nothing wrong with excluding some intermediate birds from being called Hoaries, as long as birders understand that some Hoaries are being excluded. This is conservative. But most people give redpolls very uneven treatment by demanding that Hoaries meet high standards, and then calling everything else Common.”

Redpoll age variation and ID – February 13, 2008

“The question of age variation has come up repeatedly in redpoll discussions, so I finally tried to find an answer to the question of just how important age-related variation in plumage might be. And based on published studies the answer is … not very important.”

Where do Hoary Redpolls winter? – March 3, 2008

“The proportion of Hoary to Common redpolls is much higher in the west (Alaska, Alberta, and Saskatchewan) and decreases eastwards.”

Subspecies

Redpoll subspecies – December 4, 2007

a summary of the four named subspecies of Common and Hoary Redpolls, their range and identification

Redpoll investigation widens to include “Greater” – March 7, 2008

“Conventional wisdom holds that rostrata “Greater” Common Redpolls are large and dark, and that hornemanni or “Hornemann’s” Hoary Redpoll are equally large and very pale. So I have always assumed that the two would be easier to tell apart than the smaller “Southern” flammea Common and exilipes Hoary Redpolls. But the large birds we’ve seen in Massachusetts this winter do not all fit the model.”

Another large pale redpoll – March 10, 2008

discusses photos of one particular bird and the apparent overlap between large subspecies of Common and Hoary redpolls, with a couple of general comments about redpoll ID

Greater Redpoll photos – March 11, 2008

further discussion of “Greater” Common Redpoll ID, with photos of several birds

2 comments to Redpolls – main page

  • Marg Walker

    Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a pair of Common Redpolls in my back yard. I live in Southern Sask.
    and had never seen them before.

  • Elaine knibbs

    Last year from Oct till spring I Had redpolls and nuthatches at all my feeders this year so far all I have is sparrows.Where are they.

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