The common redpoll is a common sight at winter bird feeders. Either we failed to notice this little bird in earlier years (up to 2008), or it is favouring the area more in recent winters. It is a winter finch (for those of us in southern Ontario). More than 95% of the sightings summarized here were made in the winters of early 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019, suggesting an increasing frequency and intensity of winter irruptions from the north. Such events may bring other birds, such as the rarer crossbills. Weir (1989, pp.479-480) affirms that redpolls may be very abundant in some winters, but absent in others, from southeast Ontario. The winter of 2020-2021 fits the pattern of the past: no redpolls through January, then sightings on 14 days in February, with as many as 50 birds, and continuing into March (20 and then 50 birds at the feeders early on March 1st...). The redpoll is an attractive little bird, and tends to appear in flocks, though on occasion we might see just one male and two females, say, a small group in the garden. They are often intensely active, flitting rapidly from feeders to ground, and back to nearby hedges or trees. One might see a dozen clinging to the same modest bird feeder, almost hiding it, a group behaviour seldom seen in other species. When 20 or more arrive at once they are very hard to count with any accuracy, as they are constantly on the move, sometimes in platoons of maybe ten or so birds within a larger flock of dozens.
We may note that there is another species, the hoary redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni), that is essentially an Arctic resident, though it is probably a very rare winter visitor. LaForest (1993, pp.386-387) records 5 sightings at Presqu'ile park. Weir (1989, p.480) notes that the hoary redpoll was noted in the wider Kingston region in 13 winters since 1963, and that 11 of these years coincided with "heavy flights" of the more abundant common redpoll (a parallel might be the occasional Bohemian waxwing in company with the more abundant cedar waxwing?).
The breeding range of the common redpoll in Ontario extends from Moosonee northwest to the Manitoba border (Cadman et al., 1987, pp.561-562). It is commonly found north of the boreal forest, and has a circumpolar distribution in the northern hemisphere. The addition of newer data (Cadman et al., 2007, pp.618-619) confirms that the bird nests along the northern James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts, generally between late May and mid-June.
The common redpoll is an irregular visitor to Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south, from late October to early April (LaForest, 1993, pp.385-386). It is not present every year, but is seen perhaps three years out of five. The highest numbers are generally seen in February (the Trent Hills data are consistent with this, though the peak of sightings has shifted to March). The latest substantial flock, of 35-40 common redpolls, was seen at feeders in Campbellford on 06 February 2015, the first sighting of the species that year, after which smaller numbers (often just 1-3 birds) were seen in the following few weeks.
The story is much the same in Peterborough county, to the northwest.
The bird is an irregular winter visitor and migrant
(Sadler, 1983, p.163).
Extreme dates are 24 October to 30 April, again consistent with the
more-recent sightings in Seymour Townshuip.
View the 23-winter (1998-2020) monthly data summary for the common redpoll.
Cadman,MD, Eagles,PFJ and Helleiner,FM (1987) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Long Point Bird Observatory, published by University of Waterloo Press, 617pp.
Cadman,MD, Sutherland,DA, Beck,GG, Lepage,D and Couturier,AR (editors) (2007) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, 706pp.
LaForest,SM (1993) Birds of Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Friends of Presqu'ile Park, Brighton, Ontario / Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 436pp.
Sadler,D (1983) Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawarthas. Peterborough Field Naturalists / Orchid Press, Peterborough, ON, 192pp.
Weir,RD (1989) Birds of the Kingston Area. Quarry Press, 608pp. plus map.