Wildlife Lessons-Seeing Red


A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.  ~Maya Angelou




I can tell you the lesson of this recent wildlife sighting immediately….do not judge a book…well you know the rest.  When I saw the bird above, at first I thought it was a House Finch.  The House Finch has come to be more common around here after being introduced to NY from the western US in 1940….so my immediate reaction was, it’s a House Finch.



DSCN1706But when I stopped to look longer, I noticed the back of the bird was a bit different.  Then I looked closer at their heads and…wait….this was not a House Finch.  So I began snapping lots of shots, and did a search for small, red-headed birds.



Almost immediately the name Common Redpoll came up, Acanthis flammea.  And when I looked outside again, there was a quite a flock of these small finches, covering the patio, searching for seed between the bricks as the snow had retreated quite a bit.  They didn’t stay long, but long enough for me to observe and listen to these cuties.



DSCN1702And when I searched pictures I had taken from a few days before, I found had taken pictures of these birds who resembled the House Finch in the big ash trees.  I easily recognized them by the deep rust-red patch on their foreheads and distinctive white bars on their wings.  Males also have a pale red vest (like in the top photo).



If you live in Canada, the northern US or close to the Arctic Circle, you will see these birds as they migrate South from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra in winter.  They like to hang out in open woods and weedy fields, and it is estimated their numbers are in the millions.  It seems the noisy, energetic Redpolls I saw were heading back to the Arctic to breed.




red birds collageIn April we also saw many other red birds.  On the bottom and top left are the male and female Northern Cardinal.  The female was feeding on the lichen of the ash tree.  I have spied other birds feeding on lichen too.



On the right are pictures of the Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  Woodpeckers love our suet feeders and can be seen lining up or swooping others at the feeder to make their intentions known….get moving fella, I want some suet too.  The cardinals pick up the dropped suet under the feeders.  The center picture is a male Downy Woodpecker.  I hear them constantly chattering and talking to us when we are out in the garden, especially if we are near the suet feeders.




Here are some interesting facts about Common Redpolls:

  • Common Redpolls survive temperatures down to –65 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Sometimes Common Redpolls will tunnel into the snow (at least a foot long and 4 inches deep) to stay warm during the night if the temps are extremely low.
  • Redpolls have throat pouches for storing seeds. Once they fill their pouches, they fly away to swallow the seeds.
  • Although winter redpolls eat mostly birch seeds, they also eat other tree seeds, and seeds from grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.  And if seeds are scarce they also eat insects.
  • Common Redpolls have been found to travel great distances; from Michigan to Siberia and Alaska to the eastern U.S.




With this wildlife story, I am joining in the meme Wildlife Wednesday hosted by Tina@My Gardener Says that happens the first Wednesday of every month, and with Saturday’s Critters hosted by Eileen@Viewing nature with Eileen that happens every Saturday.






I leave you with another thought about birds and nature.  Feel free to download this photo and share.


All other photos and original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-2015.  Any reprints or use of other photos or content is by permission only.

44 Replies to “Wildlife Lessons-Seeing Red”

  1. Your Common Redpoll’s are far from common Donna, they are stunning little birds! I love that they keep the seed in throat pouches and guzzle it down at their leisure. Their markings are gorgeous. They remind me a little of the red browed finch here in Australia but they don’t have those lovely striations on their body. Thank you for introducing us to your handsome visitor.

  2. What lovely little birds! And yet tough customers as well, considering their migration and habitat choices. Living as I do in Texas, I’ll only see them in photos unless I venture far to the north, so I am especially grateful you’ve shared your experience of having them visit. I recall reading some birds line their nests with lichen – do you suppose your cardinals are nesting already? Happy May!

    1. I think it was too early for nest making Deb…I noticed other birds as well as the cardinal were eating the lichen more in late winter. An interesting behavior.

  3. I loved seeing your birds, Donna, especially the redpolls. I’ve never seen one before that I recall. However, I think close observation sometimes reveals that the bird type we think we are seeing really isn’t that kind of bird at all, as in your example.

  4. Great quotes and exquisite photos. I love the soft rosy chest colour. I did not know birds eat lichen but it makes perfect sense that a bird that goes to the extreme north might do so. These birds are surviviors. – 65 F is freaking cold. I remember winters that got to negative 40. I can’t even imagine what – 65 would be like. I don’t actually even want to go there in my imagination. Scary.

  5. What a fascinating bird! I think it is extremely exciting to find a new bird species in the garden. The fact that they have a pouch to collect seeds is rather interesting. Looking at their range map it appears they will be leaving your area for summer breeding grounds soon. You have a good eye to spot the differences between the finches. I have a hard time between the house and the purple finch.

    1. I have the same issue distinguishing the purple and house finch Karin….yes, our Redpolls left for summer breeding. But we enjoyed giving them a meal on their journey!

  6. Nice post and beautiful shots!! I’ve never heard of a Common Redpoll and your mistake is an understandable one. That’s the thing about nature, science and gardening: we often have our preconceived notions about a given subject and then, with research, learn something new. And isn’t that the way it should be?

    Thanks for joining in with this excellent post!

  7. I have the cutest house finch memory! When my husband and I first got married, we lived in this tiny mobile home on an RV lot (and that house was MUCH bigger than the boat we’re living on now!). One day, this house finch perched on our window sill, looked us in the eye, and just chattered away, like he was having a conversation with us. He even took turns when we spoke to him. I have never seen a bird do that!

  8. Good Morning, Donna! I love the cute Redpolls, they are adorable birds. I happened to see my first Redpoll this winter in Maryland.. But you are so lucky to have them in your yard.. Wonderful yardbirds and photos.. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post.. Have a happy weekend!

  9. Hello, Donna!
    The common redpolls look incredibly cute. They have cousins here in Finland, where temperatures fortunately don’t usually reach the horrifying – 65 F!
    Thank you for sharing the lovely photos and interesting information! Have a beautiful weekend!

  10. I thought ‘Redpoll’ when I saw the photo, Donna. I have only seen these birds twice … and yet my nextdoor neighbour has them in her garden! Thank you for visiting my tree post!

    1. How funny they are in your neighbors garden and you have only seen them twice Caroline…perhaps they will stop more often to see you in the future.

  11. I loved reading this! You really captured the sweetness of that little bird and expressed the many joys of feeding them. I have not seen this species in Michigan, but now I will watch for it, migrating through my area! Another benefit of keeping feeders full is free entertainment for (inside only!) cats. Our six line up at every window and sit there for hours, leaving me to quilt in peace without them landing in my lap!

  12. I love the Maya Angelou quote, I had not heard it before. It reminds me of a bird that followed us around at Packwood House last weekend. The bird kept stopping near to where we were and singing ‘to us’. I have a sweet photo of the bird 🙂

    I enjoyed your post and discovery of the correct identity of the bird and all the other lovely birds n your garden.

  13. That’s a wonderful lesson, Donna! We have fewer bird species on the Big Island. I’m sure I haven’t come to know them all. The red one that visits us is the cardinal.

  14. Hi Donna, lovely post, which I have had trouble viewing. Your posts come through to my email box, but I haven’t been able to open any in the last couple of weeks. I am not sure why, as usually I can see what you’ve written but not always your photos. Anyway, this time I can see everything – words and photos! What a wonderful looking bird!

    1. I am so sorry you have had problems reading my posts Julie. I am not sure why either…but i ma most grateful you keep coming back to read even when it is difficult.

  15. Donna, I like the Redpolls and how the red patch on their heads identifies them, great observation and interesting facts about them. And I love that Maya Angelou’s quote at the beginning of your post, I need to note it down!

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