Lesser, Artic & Common Redpoll Profile

There are three species of redpoll which can be seen in the UK and they are of similar appearance. You may encounter the lesser redpoll, common redpoll or Arctic redpoll but the lesser redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) is the most frequently seen. This pretty finch boasts a red forehead, black streaking to its back and a small black beard. During the breeding season, a peachy-red patch appears on the throat and neck of these birds and is more pronounced in males. Lesser redpolls are smaller than common redpolls and their base colour is darker, being cream to cinnamon.

These sociable birds are notable for their intense activity and twittering. They often travel with siskins and goldfinches during early spring. They breed in woodland but also visit garden feeders. Lesser redpolls can be seen dangling from twigs in birch and alder trees. their song sounds like “chuch-uch-uch-errrr” and they are often very vocal.

What is the lesser redpoll’s distribution and population?

This is a widespread species which is present in Scotland, northern and eastern England and Wales. It is less common in central, southern and south-west England, but may be seen in these areas during the winter months. The birds are principally residents, but some migrate south from northern regions in the winter and may travel as far as mainland Europe.

The felling of trees during World War II created the perfect conditions for birch to flourish and therefore redpolls to prosper. However, the birch trees were eventually impacted by slower growing trees causing redpolls to fall into decline. These birds were also affected by intensive farming which reduced the availability of weed seeds. The UK population of lesser redpolls has fallen by 90% since the 1970s and the species is now on the Red List and is of serious conservation concern.

The good news here is that lesser redpolls have discovered garden feeders and are now visiting gardens more than ever. The nation’s enthusiasm for feeding birds may prove to be the saviour of this species.

What do lesser redpolls eat?

Boasting tiny beaks which help them to handle small seeds, lesser redpolls favour birch and alder seeds. When visiting gardens, they love to feast on niger (nyjer) seed. The birds are most commonly seen in gardens during the winter months and their visits appear to be getting earlier and earlier in the season.

Where do lesser redpolls nest?

The female redpoll builds her nest in a tree or bush, usually in areas of birch scrub or mixed conifer and birch woodland. The nest she creates is a small and untidy cup of fine twigs and grass which is generally lined with feathers and hair. Four or five eggs are laid and these are then incubated for 10 to 13 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and they fledge after 14 days.

Did you know?

  • A group of redpolls is known as a gallop!
  • The lesser redpoll has only recently been identified as a separate species and was previously considered to a variant of the common redpoll.
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