Carduelis flammea (Linnaeus, 1758)
New Zealand status: Introduced
Conservation status: Introduced and Naturalised
Other names: redpoll
Geographical variation: New Zealand birds are assigned to the subspecies cabaret
Common redpoll. Adult male. Wellington airport, September 2018. Image © Paul Le Roy by Paul Le Roy
- Species Information
- Breeding and ecology
Common redpolls are small finches with a distinctive red patch on the crown. They were introduced from Britain between 1862 and 1875, and are now common in hill-country throughout much of New Zealand during the breeding season. Redpolls are frequently seen in flocks interspersed with other finches in the lowlands in winter. They feed mainly on a range of smaller seeds. These are frequently taken while hanging upside-down from seed heads or the cones of trees such as birch and alder.
Redpolls are the smallest of New Zealand’s introduced finches. They are brownish and streaked, and both sexes have the red crown patch. Adult males have a variable amount of pink on the lower throat and breast. This only appears after the bird’s second moult, so first-year males are indistinguishable from females in the field. Some adult females and first-year males may have a slight pink flush on the breast, but this is not normally visible in the field. Juveniles are similar to the adult female, but are paler and lack any red colouration on the crown.
Voice: redpolls have a distinctive flight call: chich-chich-chich. Variations of a tsooee call are uttered either as an alarm call or as a contact call while perched.
Similar species: from a distance, the redpoll could be confused with a female house sparrow, which is similarly streaked. However, the sparrow is a larger bird with a heavier bill, and it also lacks any red or pink in its plumage.
Distribution and habitat
The redpoll is widespread throughout the South Island, and is also found on many off-shore islands. In the North Island, it is found in all regions, but is generally less abundant than in the South Island. The redpoll has colonised many outlying islands; it is a common resident on the Chatham Islands, and Campbell and Macquarie Islands. Smaller numbers are present on Snares, Antipodes and Auckland Islands, and it has been recorded as a vagrant on the Kermadecs and Lord Howe Islands. Single birds were recorded on the Bounty Islands in December 1990, and in Vanuatu in 1992.
The natural range of the common redpoll is North America, Greenland, Iceland and Eurasia from Britain east to Japan.
In New Zealand, redpolls occur in all types of open country from sea-level to 1500 m, including rough scrubby farmland and tussock grassland. They also inhabit forest and shrubland, but generally in clearings. Redpolls frequent gardens, parks, golf courses, croplands and orchards, especially outside the breeding season.
Redpolls are fairly common, especially at higher elevations in the South Island. They are also common on the Chatham Islands, and Campbell and Macquarie Islands; with lower numbers present on other outlying islands. However, there seems to have been a decline in the abundance of this species in recent years, especially in parts of the North Island.
Ecological and economic impacts
There are no reported ecological impacts caused by redpolls. They may cause economic losses to orchardists, and are considered a pest in some fruit-growing districts of the South Island, especially Central Otago. Damage to the buds of a variety of fruit trees has been reported during a short period in early spring. Strawberries may be damaged as a result of the birds pecking the seeds from the fruit. Redpolls may also eat newly-sown grass seed.
Redpolls breed from mid-October until the end of March, usually producing two clutches per year. They are monogamous during the breeding season, with males defending a poorly-defined territory. The female builds a small, neat cup-shaped nest of fine grass and twigs, lined with hair and feathers. The male feeds his mate while she incubates the clutch of three to six (typically four) eggs. When these hatch, both parents feed the chicks by regurgitation until fledging, and for approximately two weeks afterwards.
Behaviour and ecology
Redpolls feed on the ground or from weeds growing near the ground, and also amongst the branches and foliage of shrubs and trees. They frequently perform acrobatic acts to reach seeds located near the tips of thin twigs.
During the breeding season, the redpoll is most often observed either as single individuals or in pairs. Small groups of juveniles or mixed groups of adults and juveniles may feed together. They are gregarious during the non-breeding period, when they may gather into large flocks of hundreds or even thousands of birds. One flock was estimated to contain more than 100,000 birds. The composition of the flocks may vary; age and sex proportions changing according to the time of year. Redpolls may form mixed flocks with other species of finches and yellowhammers at a good food source.
There is no evidence of regular internal migration, but local movements occur in response to seasonal food availability. There is an altitudinal component in many of the movements, as many birds breed in high country which they vacate during winter when there is little food available. Movements are often irregular, and birds have reached many outlying islands unaided.
The redpoll feeds mainly on seeds, gleaned from a variety of weeds, shrubs and trees. These include the seeds of grasses (especially Poa annua and toetoe), rushes, dock, dandelion, and annual weeds such as fat hen and Amaranthus. A variety of tree seeds including those of birch and alder are taken. Small insects such as aphids form a minor part of the diet, eaten mainly during the breeding season. Buds are also consumed, most frequently in late winter and early spring when preferred food sources are not available.
Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H. A. 1996. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking, Auckland.
Higgins,P.J.; Peter, J.M.; Cowling, S.J. (eds.) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 7, boatbill to starlings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Angus, D.J. 2013. Redpoll. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www . nzbirdsonline . org . nz
- Common redpoll
- Social structure
- Breeding season
- Nest type
- woven cup
- Nest description
- Small cup constructed neatly of fine grass and twigs, lined with hair, feathers or wool.
- Nest height (mean)
- 2 m
- Nest height (min)
- 0.2 m
- Nest height (max)
- 7 m
- Maximum number of successful broods
- Clutch size (mean)
- Clutch size (min)
- Clutch size (max)
- Mean egg dimensions (length)
- 14.9 mm
- Mean egg dimensions (width)
- 11.6 mm
- Egg colour
- Blue or blue-green with light brown or purplish-brown spots mostly at the large end.
- Egg laying dates
- Interval between eggs in a clutch
- 1 days
- Incubation behaviour
- female only
- Incubation length (mean)
- 11 days
- Incubation length (min)
- 10 days
- Incubation length (max)
- 12 days
- Nestling type
- Nestling period (mean)
- 13 days
- Nestling period (min)
- 12 days
- Nestling period (max)
- 15 days
- Age at fledging (mean)
- 13 days
- Age at fledging (min)
- 12 days
- Age at fledging (max)
- 15 days
- Age at independence (mean)
- Approximately 26 days
- Age at first breeding (typical)
- 1 year
- Age at first breeding (min)
- 1 years
- Maximum longevity
- 8 years
- Maximum dispersal
- 2200 km (Vanuatu)
Length: 12 cm
Weight: 12 g
Similar species: House sparrow
A small brownish-streaked songbird species with a bright red crown patch and a stubby yellowsh bill. Adult males have a variable amount of pink on the lower throat and breast which only appears after the second moult; some adult females and first-year males may have a slight pink flush on the breast and juveniles look similar to adult females but are paler and lack any red on the crown.
Calls from large flock in scrub
Calls from perched bird (California quail & song thrush in background)
Song and calls from a group atop a tree (chaffinch and bellbird in background)
Calls from a flock in light scrub
Calls from a flock in light scrub
Anxiety call of adult perched in shrub (bellbird in background)
Calls and song
Show morefewer sounds…
Checklist of the birds of NZ
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Bird distribution in NZ
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Field guide to the birds of NZ
Penguin Books NZ
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Birds of NZ – Locality guide
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Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds:
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Birds of the Chatham Islands
Department of Conservation
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The discovery of NZ’s birds
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- Life History
- Find in WA
The Common Redpoll is slightly larger than the American Goldfinch. The male is heavily streaked and has a small, red crown and pink breast. The female is duller than the male and lacks the pink breast, but does have the same red ‘poll’ as the male.
Redpolls are Arctic and sub-Arctic breeders, and Common Redpolls typically breed in open coniferous forests and shrubby birch and alder thickets. During winter they inhabit various kinds of semi-open country, including woodland edges and brushy or weedy fields. They can often be found in birch, alder, or willow patches.
Busy and acrobatic, Common Redpolls forage in flocks along hedgerows or in catkin-bearing trees. They are well adapted to feeding at the very tips of small branches, hanging upside-down, and using their feet to hold food items. They also forage on the ground, especially in winter, and move in rolling waves across ground-feeding areas. They have pouches in their throats that allow them to gather large amounts of food quickly, and then retreat to a safe place to process the food. In winter, they will drop from a tree into deep snow and make a tunnel about a foot long to a roosting chamber. Like many finches, they have an undulating flight pattern. They are quite vocal, making constant contact calls within their flocks, and are often located by their flight calls.
Common Redpolls eat tiny seeds, especially those from willow, birch, and alder trees. They also eat buds, weeds, grasses, and insects. They feed insects and spiders to their young.
Common Redpolls form monogamous pairs. Nests may be placed close together and are well hidden in dense, low shrubs, in clumps of grass, or under brush piles. The female builds an open cup nest of loosely arranged twigs, grass, and moss, lined with ptarmigan feathers, plant down, and hair. The female incubates 4 to 6 eggs for about 11 days. The male brings food to the female while she incubates and while she broods the young. About five days after the young hatch, the female begins to bring food to the nest. She continues to do most of the actual feeding. The young leave the nest 11 to 12 days after hatching. At this point, they can fly weakly and follow the parents around. They are fully independent at about 26 days of age.
Common Redpolls breed in the sub-Arctic. If enough food is available, many birds will remain on the breeding grounds in winter, but many birds move south. The winter range is variable, based on food supply, but generally encompasses the northern tier of the United States.
While there is no reliable information on population trends, Common Redpolls breed in regions and habitats that are not generally subject to habitat degradation. Their wintering range is extensive, and they are flexible, quickly moving on to new areas if others are unsuitable.
When and Where to Find in Washington
Winter visitors, Common Redpolls vary in abundance and location from year to year. They are most regular in the northern portion of the state and in far eastern Washington, where they are generally present every winter. They are rare in western Washington. They are often found with flocks of Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches.
|Pacific Northwest Coast|
Washington Range Map
North American Range Map
- BramblingFringilla montifringilla
- Gray-crowned Rosy-FinchLeucosticte tephrocotis
- Pine GrosbeakPinicola enucleator
- Purple FinchCarpodacus purpureus
- Cassin’s FinchCarpodacus cassinii
- House FinchCarpodacus mexicanus
- Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra
- White-winged CrossbillLoxia leucoptera
- Common RedpollCarduelis flammea
- Hoary RedpollCarduelis hornemanni
- Pine SiskinCarduelis pinus
- Lesser GoldfinchCarduelis psaltria
- American GoldfinchCarduelis tristis
- Evening GrosbeakCoccothraustes vespertinus
|Federal Endangered Species List||Audubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch List||State Endangered Species List||Audubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List|
View full list of Washington State’s Species of Special Concern