What “Sparrow” Has a Thumbprint Sized Red Cap and a Pink Blush on Its Chest?

Here in southern Ontario we’ve been experiencing some -22 C weather but there are still birds here who think this is the perfect winter destination for a vacation down south. In fact, according to the Cornell University website, the birds I’m writing about today can survive -65 F temperatures!  One of these northern birds that only visits us during the winter months is the Common Redpoll. It comes south in large numbers some winters and in other winters very few come down. In southern Ontario this winter, 2014-2015, there aren’t too many being reported. One flock, though, is hanging out at JC Saddington Park in Mississauga.

Photo of Redpoll Upright Alder on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Photo of Redpoll Male Up Cone Bright on NaturalCrooksDotCom

As you can see in the photos, Common Redpolls have a small red mark at the front of the top of their head. Both the males and females have this patch of red. Males also have a blush of pink or red on their breast and down their flanks. The amount and depth of colour can vary quite a bit.

Don’t Be Too Sure You’ll See the Red Cap!

Photo of Redpoll Male Upside Alders on NaturalCrooksDotCom

It’s surprising to me how small the red cap is on the top front of the Redpoll’s head. Several times when they were contorted upside down and sideways to eat seeds it was actually impossible to see the red. It was only when they straightened out that you could clearly see a thumbprint-sized patch of red.

Not Sure Which Bird It Is? Check the Bill

Photo of Redpoll Male Glint on NaturalCrooksDotCom

One quick clue that you’re looking at a Redpoll and not a House Finch is the bill. The Common Redpoll has a small bright yellow bill. The House Finch has a larger dark bill.

Photo of Redpoll Upright Alder Blue Sky B on NaturalCrooksDotCom

If You See Yellow on the Wing

If you see what you assume is yet another Redpoll in the flock but it has a bright yellow mark on the wing, it’s probably a Pine Siskin. There was at least one Siskin hanging out with the Redpolls at Saddington. When you look more closely you’ll see the Siskin has a longer dark bill and is a longer bird overall. It’s always nice to get a variety of birds feeding together so you can make comparisons.

Photo of Pine Siskin Beakfull on NaturalCrooksDotCom

This is a Pine Siskin who is hanging out with the flock of Redpolls.

Which Way Is Up?

Don’t count on the Redpolls posing for photos. They are very active birds and, like Goldfinches, seem to have no qualms about feeding while hanging upside down or leaning sideways. They also feed very close together so you can often find 3 or 4 within one square foot of tree.

Photo of Redpoll Male Sideways Cone on NaturalCrooksDotCom

What Were These Redpolls Feasting On?

These photos were taken when the Redpolls were fishing seeds out of Alder cones. I also watched them, though, feeding while perched on the cedar trees nearby. They seemed to be eating the seeds out of the cedar cones although I have not confirmed that. I have read that Redpolls will store seeds in their crops and eat them when in safer or warmer locations, so it’s possible they were not actually feeding from the cedars themselves.

Photo of Redpoll Upright Alder on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The flock has been seen off and on throughout January and February at Saddington Park.

Photo of Redpoll Male Wing Out on NatuarlCrooksDotCom

With luck, I’ll get to see them again before the fly north for the nesting season.

Photo of Redpoll Male Bright on NaturalCrooksDotCom

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