West Midland Bird Club

Studying Birds in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands since 1929

Recent Sightings

Winter birding

Migration activity in the north and east of the British Isles during the early to mid-autumn period of this year (2018) involved good numbers of Lesser Redpoll. These flocks were interspersed with a welcome scattering of Common Redpoll and a few Coues’s Arctic Redpoll, prompting speculation that a ‘Redpoll winter’ might well be on the cards. At the same time, reasonably good numbers of Lesser Redpoll arrived in our region, these too were accompanied by proportionately decent numbers of Common Redpoll and, fingers crossed, other Redpoll species and races. As might be expected, the momentum of these new arrivals moderated as we entered November. While the anticipated influx may not have reached the proportions that had been hoped for, there remains an incentive to seek out and investigate any Redpoll flocks in the hope they contain some special birds. Indications suggest there is every chance you could be rewarded for your efforts. In most winters Lesser Redpoll flocks are usually fairly well distributed, irrespective of there being an influx of continental birds. The larger the flock, then realistically, the greater the chance it could involve others.


Let’s take a look at the genus Acanthis (the Redpolls) to find out what we are dealing with before highlighting some of the identification problems that we will certainly be faced with.

Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea encompasses the world in a northerly zone of the northern hemisphere (Scandinavian and North European birds that winter in the British Isles are also referred to as Mealy Redpoll). This is a rare or scarce winter visitor to our region in fluctuating/invasive numbers. The species is further divided into two more geographical variations, both referred to as North-western Redpoll, A. f. rostrata (Greenland Redpoll) and A. f. islandica (Iceland Redpoll), both variations are considered as very rare in our region. Lesser Redpoll Acanthis cabaret, is a fairly common passage migrant, winter visitor and an uncommon or frequent breeding species in our region. Arctic Redpoll of the species hornemanni, is separated into two distinct geographical variations, Coues’s Arctic Redpoll A. h. exilipes (Northern Europe) and Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll A. h. hornemanni (Greenland and Arctic Canada). Both races of hornemanni are considered as very rare in our region.


Familiarising ourselves with the makeup of the Redpoll family is one thing, identifying them as separate species and races is another. These birds can range from being a fairly nondescript little brown job as in some Lesser Redpolls, to a sandy faced white snowball of a bird as in Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll. We are dealing with plumage variations in sex and age, involving pale and dark variants of the same species. There is also an overlap in plumage variations and size involving the different species. A useful initial approach when separating A. cabaret from A. flammea, these being the two most likely species that you will encounter, is to distinguish size and structure in comparison to other birds. Colour toning can often be quite distinct between these two species but this is not always the case and an awareness of this is important. Images 1. and 2. are typical examples, but not necessarily a constant definition. Very pale A. cabaret can often be confused as being A. flammea, while dull A. flammea are often overlooked in flocks of A. cabaret. A close scrutiny of all details, especially overall structure/build, bill size and shape, as well as plumage pattern and colour is always advisable. For a full and detailed account of the Redpoll family and their complicated identification, visit the Research Page of this website and read the excellent article by Andy Warr ‘Worcestershire Redpolls and a guide to their separation - updated 2016’. This informative paper is an ideal reference.












































The Marsh Lane NR Redpoll sp. December 2007 is a good example of the identification problems that can be encountered when separating Redpoll species and races. An account of this bird can be found in the West Midland Bird Club Annual Report No.74, year 2007. To read this report visit the Archives page of this website where access to all WMBC annual reports (excluding current) is available.


The challenge of accurately identifying Redpolls is a fascinating and enjoyable subject that can often be a true birding test, however, when it all comes together and you find the bird you were hoping for, the rewards are well worth it


Make this winter your Redpoll winter and search for that special bird. Visiting the Club reserves at Belvide, Blithfield, Ladywalk and Harborne during the winter months will certainly offer a realistic opportunity to come into contact with Redpoll flocks, very best of luck with the next step. For details on gaining access to West Midland Bird Club Reserves, visit the Join page of this website.


Redpolls are readily attracted to garden feeding stations, particularly those that provide a regular supply of Sunflower seeds/hearts, or Niger seeds, (also known as Nyjer), so make sure you are ready for their arrival, you could be in for an entertaining winter.



 Lesser - left and Common Redpoll - Tony Kelly Lesser - left - and Common Redpoll - Tony Kelly

Image 1                                                                                             Image 2

Lesser Redpoll Acanthis cabaret, left bird in both images and Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea, right bird in both images - Blythe Valley CP - Photographs Tony Kelly. In this instance the structure and plumage difference is easily discernible, however, always be aware of colour variations and size overlap.                        

Redpoll- Steve Seal

Redpoll sp. - Marsh Lane NR - Photograph Steve Seal