The redpoll feeding etiquette is decidedly boorish; they jostle each other rudely for favoured perches on the feeders.
A great and ravenous host occupied our land this winter. Redpolls in the tens of thousands invaded southern Ontario, seeking food. These small finches rear their young on the tundra of the high Arctic. One variety, the hoary redpoll, breeds as far north as the northern tip of Canada on Ellesmere Island, sharing habitat with polar bears and arctic foxes.
These birds do indeed sport a red “poll” meaning “top of the head”. The males augment this colourful cap with deep pink breasts.
Southern Ontario is the balmy south for these hardy birds. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, redpolls are able to tolerate temperatures as low as -53C. Cornell also reports that some redpolls survive this bone-chilling cold by tunneling in the snow.
Here in the south, redpolls careen in rollicking flocks from feeder to feeder, alighting to feed one moment, and then lifting off on some urgent errand the next. Their feeding etiquette is decidedly boorish; they jostle each other rudely for favoured perches on the feeders.
Ron Pittaway in his annual “Finch Forecast” was spot on last autumn in predicting the redpolls arrival this winter. He anticipated that a poor crop of birch seed, the redpolls staple winter food in the north, would drive them south.
As a child I read a charming book penned by a gentleman in Maine who entertained redpolls and other finches during the winter. Not content to watch the finches from inside his house, he opened his kitchen windows and welcomed them inside to feast on bird seed he would scatter on his table. (No mention was made about how this affected his heating bills!)
With the grackles, robins and red-winged blackbirds now flooding into Ontario from the south, the time is nigh for redpolls to return to the Arctic. May they grace us with their frenetic presence again next winter.