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Common Redpoll Irruption Update

Posted on Dec 29, 2014

This is a companion blog entry to the Winter Bird Forecast by Audubon Connecticut and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. The first two forecasts were published recently: “Cloudy with a Chance of Snowys” and “Expect the Unexpected“. The third will be coming soon!

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) feeding in grass on seeds at beach-072

Blending in beautifully on the beach

The Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) was predicted to make a “moderate to good flight” this fall and winter due to “variably poor to average” birch seed crops in the boreal forest according to Ron Pittaway’s 2014-15 winter finch forecast. Nearly a month ago I started to notice more reports coming in via eBird as Redpolls descended on the Lower 48, but since that time there have not been as many sightings as I would have expected. The forecast and the early results were promising but the birds seem to be uncommon and, when spotted, in low numbers. Let’s take a closer look! While I have not seen any Redpolls this year I have included some photos from previous irruptions in this entry.

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) feeding on grass seeds on snowy beach-1100926

No snow and no Redpolls right now, but more of both will be coming

Here is a continental view of Common Redpoll reports via eBird from November 1 through December 28, 2014. Remember that sightings in the last 30 days have orange markers.

Common Redpoll eBird map November December 2014

Let’s zoom in a bit…

Common Redpoll eBird map November December 2014 zoom

And further to us in the Northeast…

Common Redpoll eBird map November December 2014 Northeast

Considering the dense population of many of the areas on the last map there really are not that many sightings. While parts of western New York have a lot of open space, like RTPI’s neck of the woods in Jamestown and Chautauqua County, other sizable chunks of eastern New York have a lot of eyes and eBirders. The same can be said for Connecticut, Massachusetts, and the remainder of New England.

Common Redpoll DSC_0179

In the low winter sun

It seems like a lot of the birds are still concentrated towards the Canadian side of the border and the Great Lakes. While wild food sources, or a lack thereof, help drive irruptions has the lack of snow and warm temperatures helped to enable birds to stick it out and find more to feed on up north? There are certainly more dunes and grasslands like these that can help to feed them…

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) feeding in grass on seeds at beach-1100918

Grasslands are also good places to chow down while using camouflage

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) feeding in grass on seeds at beach-073

They certainly offer beautiful shades of red in drab habitats

When snow is not covering the earth it can be much easier to feed on a greater diversity of food without relying solely on trees, like their preferred birch. Warmer temperatures may also mean warmer bodies, healthier birds, and less desperation to rapidly seek out major feeding areas or more nutritious menus to the south.

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) feeding in grass on seeds at beach-068

Entire flocks can go unnoticed on beaches if they’re quiet

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) feeding in grass on seeds at beach-063

Pondering and chewing

The maps are very helpful but they do not tell us how many birds have been to our areas. Let’s take a look at a few graphs to help fill us in on the numbers using New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts this November and December to give us a decent sample size. Here is frequency, the percentage of total checklists entered into eBird that had a Common Redpoll in them…

Common Redpoll frequency

As you can see the peak is well below even 1% and actually came in the week of December 8. Here is the average count, or the average number of birds the observer detected when the species was encountered…

Common Redpoll average count

For a bird that can have flocks of dozens of individuals, or even over 100, this speaks to the still low numbers being seen even when detected. Once again the week of December 8 comes out on top, having the species seen the most frequently in the two months with the most individuals recorded as well. And to add even more fuel to the “low numbers” fire here is the highest count entered into eBird for each week…

Common Redpoll high count

Someone was very lucky to have 120 Common Redpolls! Otherwise there was a high of 60 birds in the week of December 15, and all remaining peaks are under 30 birds.

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) feeding in grass on seeds at beach-027

Redpoll reminder – keep our beaches clean!

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) perched on post at beach near marsh

Lifeguard on duty?

It is really speculation on my part but I anticipate we will seek an increase in both the number of sightings and abundance of Common Redpolls soon thanks to a colder than usual weather pattern setting up for this week along with a calendar turning into January. As the winter season presses on we will likely see more snow and the depletion of what wild food sources there were to our north, helping the birds concentrated just over the border in Canada push south. We will be keeping an eye on the species and more of our winter birding specialties in our continuing Winter Bird Forecasts with Audubon Connecticut.

Good luck, good birding, and Happy New Year!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator