Species Of The Week Number 18: Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll is one of the winter visitor to Meanwood Valley. The best place to see them is on Birch or Alder trees, with the young woodlands planted around the Urban Farm is a good place to start. Sooner or later (probably later - Sod's law) a flock of these small finches will appear, hanging upside down and acrobatically feeding on the seed cones. There is a flock of 20-30 birds in the area at the moment.

I say 'Lesser' Redpoll but identifying different Redpoll species is quite controversial in the bird world, even involving DNA analysis. At some point there were officially 5 different species, but this is now generally accepted to have reduced to 3: The Common, the Lesser and the Arctic Redpoll. Some scientists even think they are actually all the same species. I'm sure more people would know about this if academics gave catchier titles to their work: 'Mitochondrial DNA homogeneity in the phenotypically diverse redpoll finch complex' ain't going to fly out the doors of Waterstones any time soon.

Redpolls are tough little things and readily survive temperatures of -50°c in Northern Canada. In order to do so they have developed a few coping strategies. For instance, their winter feathers weigh twice as much as their summer feathers giving added insulation. They also have a throat pouch where they store undigested food until they need it at night, increasing the number of calories they can take on. But perhaps the most unusual adaption is that they actually dig little tunnels in the snow and sleep in them to keep warm. (If you don't believe me there is a video on YouTube).

If you are VERY lucky you might even get a Redpoll visiting your Meanwood bird feeder. Luckier than me anyway, I've not seen one in 23 years of putting seeds out here. Talking of which, this weekend (January 28th -30th) is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. It's the world's biggest wildlife survey will have over 1 million people taking part. In the 2022 Birdwatch the Redpoll was the 50th most common species seen in West Yorkshire, that means it was only recorded in about 1 in a thousand of the West Yorkshire counts. By the way you don't need a garden to join in as you can also count species in your local park for an hour. If you want to take part all the details are just a Google search away.

Posted on 25 January, 2023 10:18 by clunym clunym


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