Home / Articles / Bird Spotting


Image of the April 2019 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
April 2019 Issue

The redpoll is named after the distinctive red patch on their crown. It’s a small bird of the finch family and was introduced from Britain between 1862 and 1875.

Conservation status
Introduced and naturalised.

Redpolls are the smallest introduced finch. They are brownish in colour and streaked with off-white and very similar in appearance to a sparrow or skylark. The distinguishing red patch on the head is carried by both sexes. The adult males have a variable amount of pink on the lower throat and breast while juvenile birds look similar to females albeit paler in colour and lacking the red crown.

Redpolls have two distinct calls. Variations of a ‘tsooee’ is used when alarmed or as contact calls and a ‘chich-chich-chich’ when in flight.

Bird spotting tip

With so many small, passerine-type birds that look similar, it can be difficult distinguishing between them. The only real feature that separates redpolls is the obvious red patch on top of their head. Outside the breeding season, and in areas with good populations, they can gather into large flocks of up to 100 birds.

Redpolls feed mainly on seeds, gleaned from a variety of weeds, shrubs, trees and grasses. Toetoe, rushes, dock, dandelion and annual weeds such as fat hen are favourites. Small insects such as aphids form a minor part of the diet, eaten mainly during the breeding season.

From mid October to the end of March is the typical breeding period. It’s normal for two clutches of four eggs to be produced each year. The male feeds the female while she is incubating (an 11 day period) and both parents feed the young chicks by regurgitation until two weeks after fledging age.

Feathery Fact
Redpolls are well known for their acrobatic antics when reaching for seeds at the end of thin twigs and grasses. Although they are not a migratory species, some movements do occur in response to seasonal food supplies.