The full name for this species is actually the Lesser Redpoll, as relatively recently (year 2000) it was classified as a separate species from the very similar Common Redpoll (also called the Mealy Redpoll) which, despite the name, is not common in the UK at all. Lesser Redpolls breed in the UK, whereas Common Redpolls are winter visitors only and generally just to the eastern side of the UK. There are subtle differences only between the two species, but since it is the Lesser Redpoll that’s much more likely to be seen in gardens across the UK, then that’s what we’ll focus on here. The diagnostic feature is the red patch on the forehead of both sexes and black bib, then a pale grey-brown body (lighter underside) and wings, with darker brown streaks. Usually there are pale pinky-red patches on the breast in the breeding season on the male bird. They are a small finch and often flock with Siskins – and may visit niger seed feeders together in gardens.
Redpoll diet and food
In the summer months the diet is primarily insects, with the young fed mainly on caterpillars. For the rest of the year the food is largely small seeds, with birch, alder and conifer seeds making up much of the diet. In gardens, the best food by far to attract the species is niger seed, which they’ll either take from a special niger feeder (which has tiny seed ports) or direct from the ground, a table or ground tray.
Redpoll nesting and breeding habits
The nest is constructed in a in a tree – often a young conifer which provides dense cover – or bush, and is a somewhat untidy cup of fine twigs, grass, and plant stems. It then has a lining of plant down, feathers and hair. There are usually two broods per year, with a clutch size of between four and five eggs. The female incubates the eggs alone, but both parents feed the young.
Behaviour traits of Redpolls
Lesser Redpolls are a sociable bird and a few pairs – perhaps up to six – will often nest quite close together in a loose colony. Outside of the breeding season they form larger flocks which often include Siskins as well. When feeding on birch and alder seeds, the species has a habit of dangling upside down on fine twigs at the end of branches to extract the tiny seeds.
Video footage of Redpolls
Redpoll history and population trends
The UK population has gone through rapid decline since the 1970s, and now stands at about 10% of its population in that decade. There is no sound evidence currently available as to why, but studies have focused on the reduction in young forestry plantations (a favoured nesting location). The species is now listed as red status in the UK