Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Redpoll Identification

The following is a small article I wrote that should help with the identification and separation of the following Redpoll species:
  • Lesser
  • Mealy
  • Coues' Arctic
  • Hornemann's Arctic
Feel free to distribute it as you see fit if you want to do so. You can simply read it here on Blogger or you can Download it below. If you have any comments or  think there is something I have missed out or some information that you deem to be not factual then please get in touch. Other than that enjoy! 

Redpoll Identification

Until next time, Foghorn out!


  1. Fantastic stuff Andrew, looks like you put a lot of effort into that and it is certainly very informative and helpful. Very well done.

    Know you have mentioned this, but I found the buffish tonings to the cheeks and face to be very prevalent on the Hornemann's I saw on Fair Isle last year (as you can see in my record pic) and certainly seems to be a key feature in terms of identification between exilipes and hornemanni as you have stated. Indeed, this bird was as you say also considerably larger than the Mealies and Lessers round about it (see pic below):


    Another feature I think is important to note that you haven't mentioned, especially in Hugh Harrop's above pic of a Hornemann's is the heavy feathering round the legs, which effectively seems to 'cloak' the upper legs (the tarsi I think?). In the above pics and others I've seen of Coues's I haven't had the same impression of heavy feathering and cloaking around the upper legs. The Hornemann's I saw in Fair Isle was, although mostly seen on the ground, very heavily feathered round the legs.

    To further illustrate this for example, take the Hornemann's here:


    And the Coues's here:

    http://www.birdguides.com/iris/pictures.asp?v=1&f=319789 .

    The heavier feathering round the legs on the Hornemann's is clearly shading the top of the legs, where as the feathering appears quite noticeably less heavy on the Coues's. Having looked at various pics of both subspecies and seen hornemanni this seems to me a quite a good ID feature when seperating Coues's from Hornemanni. I am no Redpoll expert, but this is just something I've noticed in a number of pics that may be worth pointing out.

    I've also noticed from the pics above and elsewhere that the bill seems slightly longer in Hornemann's than on Coues's, and the tail looks a shade longer on Hornemann's too. However of course Arctic Redpolls like all Redpolls do vary so the abovementioned features will all vary. Hope my suggestions help!



    1. This of course is a load of tosh. Not one of these features is certain enough to define what variety of Redpoll you are dealing with; you make these things up so you can get another tick in your year/lifetime list. A few years ago, a Redpoll turned up at a private reserve just outside Birmingham. People were taking pictures of it, with two-foot long telephoto lens from 20 feet away, and still couldn't decide which variety it was. Some clown even suggested that there were in fact two types, both at times frequenting the same stretch of hedgerow, but never appearing together. There was even talk about netting the thing so they could examine it in the hand.What there was is a Redpoll that in certain lights looked like one imagined species, in other lights looked like another; it was a Redpoll and that is that. I on sveral occasions over the course of a couple of weeks, had an aberrant Blue Tit visit a garden feeder, with a lower mandible, strongly downcurved and a good 2cms in length; it was still a Blue Tit, just an exceptionally well marked mutation and you talk about 'buffer' 'longer bill' 'more feathered' as if they had any specificity value. One would think Darwin had never existed. Get real will you. Knock a few ticks off your list and just enjoy seeing an attractive bird

  2. Hi Joseph,

    Thanks very much for your kind comments, when it comes to a review of this article I will be sure to add it about the feathers tasi. I have left that out (Doh!). Coues' do show this feature and it is variable however it would appear that in most HArctics this feature is more predominant than it is in Coues'.

    Coues' are the harder ones, hope you get a chance to see the Titchwell bird as it looks very educational. Plumage wise (aside from the rump) a very similar bird wintered at Rainton Meadows the winter gone.


  3. Hi Andrew

    I don't think you have any worries about identifying hornemanns tbh, they are the size of feckin mistle thrushes !!....... Well you know what I mean, the last one I saw was with rostrata redpolls and it looked bigger, a real monster !

    I’ve seen exilipes with plain buffy looking faces similar to hornemanns, I think the difference may be in how that buffy face looks on the bird overall, hornemanns appearing like a clean white bird with an obvious contrasting buffy face, but exilipes perhaps looking more subtle and less bright/contrasty. Having said that check out the pics of that exilipes in Beds last winter, very buffy faced and white looking.

    Re- tarsi feathering, a word of caution, if you remember last winter, many of those grey/white mealys seemed to show well feathered tarsi......

    Also worth noting that exilipes can sometimes show 3 streaks on UTCs (often 1st yrs), usually a central fine streak with a couple of even finer ‘ghost streaks’ either side. In these cases streak shape and the usual combination other supporting features will be important.

    Finally, they’re all the same species and should be lumped..... See ya.... 8)

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Not to worry, was a pleasure to help. Indeed, it does seem that this is one of the predominant features in Hornemann's.

    Thanks mate, hoping to see this bird, would be nice to have seen both Hornemann's and Coues's in the field by the end of the trip. Certainly Coues's is the harder to ID, but Hornemann's seems to be a Northern Isles phenomenon, must be the major want for mainland birders.


  5. Thanks to Stringer and Joseph,

    Stringer: Cheers mate, will add in the bit about UTC's showing some fine lines either side of narrow dark shaft streak. I new I would miss something out. :)

    Joseph: Thanks for comments and no doubt bump into you again soon, give me a shout when your down in God's own county of Durham.

  6. just started on your article and appears you may be falling at the first hurdle with the first line 'brownish tones around head mantle and wings', as far as i can see the wings show no brown what so ever both pics show grey wings with white fringes.
    Carelees generalisations lend no credibility to what you are trying to do here.

  7. with reference to fig 13 you write 'however the Arctic (Figure 13) looks far paler with those attractive buffish white tones, the head is has very `bull like `and has a thick set feel, this gives for Coues` Arctic Redpolls a bull necked appearance. This later feature another pro feature for Coues` Arctic Redpoll'
    Besides the appalling English what does this mean ?! Is the head bull like ? does it have horns ?
    If you are trying to say it has a bull neck(common parlance in birding circles)then why not simply say so ?
    I do not which to appear picky but again your article lacks any credibility with descriptions like this.

    1. When you comment on the use of my English skills I would first suggest you review the post you sent, the irony of it all. If you wish to produce something and have it peer reviewed as I have done then please go ahead, otherwise may I suggest you say nothing.

      The bull necked appearance means thick, it is commonly used when discussing redpolls. Presumably as an instant expert on the topic you could impart the knowledge you possess here? The reply you gave is very rude, if you are going to comment with thoughts try to keep them sensible and civil otherwise don't comment at all! Thanks for the comments and they are noted.

      Kind regards