I’ve been having a hard time keeping our bird feeders filled lately, and it’s not due to some sort of feeding binge by the usual chickadees and nuthatches. Common redpolls showed up at our feeders a few weeks ago, and they’re doing their best to eat us out of house and home. They’re hitting our two tube feeders with sunflower seeds hard, and I can just about watch the level of thistle (niger) seed drop in another feeder. They’re a bird seed company’s dream come true.
But I’ll buy these birds all the thistle and sunflower seeds they can eat. They’re colorful little birds, and they’re providing us with lots of entertainment. Redpolls are about the size of a chickadee. The females look like small sparrows with a black chin, red patch on the head, and a lightly colored but heavily streaked breast. The males are similar in size and markings but also have a distinctive red to pink upper breast. They’re really quite attractive little birds.
Redpolls are irregular winter visitors to our area. They’re a species of the far north, summering in northern Canada and Alaska. You might be surprised to learn that common redpolls can also be found in Scandinavian countries, Russia, and some other parts of Europe. As for our local “snowbirds,” I find it rather amusing that they go south for the winter, not to Texas or Arizona, but to North Dakota!
There may be another reason they’re showing up at the feeder recently. Redpolls usually feed on small seeds such those of birch, willow, and various herbaceous weeds. As the snow depth has increased, more and more of those seeds are now under the big white blanket. As a result, they visit birdfeeders more frequently.
If you don’t want to spend all your time indoors watching the redpolls at your feeder you may try going outside and feeding them from your hand. I’ve read that redpolls, like chickadees, can quite easily be conditioned to feed from our hands. I have tried it and it worked. Not only did I get them feeding out of my hand, but some also perched on my arm and shoulder waiting for their turn at the sunflowers in my hand. I’m not sure how quickly that will happen for you, but make sure to put your coat on before you go out and try it.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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