The Kennedy Wild Bird Food Guide to the Redpoll

Whilst the common redpoll visits the UK during the winter, it is not one of the most common types of birds in the UK as it doesn’t actually breed here.

In 2000, the lesser redpoll was classed as a separate species to the common redpoll and unlike the common redpoll, it breeds in the UK. There are only a few differences between the two species, but as you’re more likely to see the lesser redpoll in your garden, it is the one we’ll be focusing on in our bird guide.

The lesser redpoll can be seen in woodlands and gardens across the UK apart from the Orkney and Shetland Islands. In the Midlands and south of England, they aren’t as common but can be seen when larger numbers come to the UK during the winter.

 

What does a redpoll bird look like?

Is it a linnet or redpoll? Is it a common redpoll or a lesser redpoll? It can be difficult to tell the three of these species apart but there are a few discerning characteristics which will help you identify which bird you’re looking at.

A lesser redpoll has a red forehead and during the breeding season, a lighter pink extends down the neck and throat of the male birds, but less so with female lesser redpolls. Both the female and male lesser redpolls have a black streak on their backs and small goatee-like black beards.


How to identify a lesser redpoll from a common redpoll and a linnet?

A common redpoll is paler and larger than a lesser redpoll and if you think you’re looking at a common redpoll, chance is you’re actually looking at a lesser redpoll.

According to the RSPB, there are only 1-4 breeding pairs of common redpolls in the UK, compared to 220,000 lesser redpoll breeding pairs.

Whilst a linnet, like a lesser redpoll also has a red forehead and a pink tone to its breast, it has a grey head and beak which makes it easier to distinguish from the lesser redpoll.


Adult Lesser Redpoll

(Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/23632548@N00/8750216421/)


Adult Common Redpoll

(Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfaulder/38679109780)

Adult Linnet

What does a redpoll sound like?

The lesser redpoll call is relatively metallic and rattles off a series of low-pitched notes which sound like “chuch-uch-uch-errrrr”.

As they move in flocks listen out for the lesser redpoll song as a small gathering of these sociable birds will liven up any garden.


 

Where can you spot lesser redpolls?

With an RSPB red UK conservation status, it’s important to log all sightings of lesser redpolls which you can do using our BirdSpotter tool.

Lesser redpolls can be found throughout the United Kingdom and they can normally be seen in woodlands or among the branches of shrubs and trees in gardens. As they are mainly resident birds, they can be seen all year round.

However, during the winter some lesser redpolls migrate to the south of England in search of a milder climate, making them easier to spot in the region during that time of year.

Where do lesser redpolls nest?

With breeding starting in May, a lesser redpoll nest can be found in woodland trees or bushes. They build their untidy nests using thin twigs and grass and line them with feather and hairs. Each nest can fit up to 5 eggs and the eggs are incubated by the female for anywhere between 10 to 13 days. Both the male and female lesser redpolls feed their young.

What do lesser redpolls eat?

Lesser redpolls feed on insects and caterpillars during the summer months as well as during the height of their breeding season. Throughout the rest of the year, they feed on small seeds such as birch and conifer seeds.

Thanks to people adding nyjer (niger) seed feeders as well as providing sources of sunflower seeds and mixed seeds for wild birds in their gardens, the number of lesser redpolls visiting UK gardens is on the rise. With a high level of concern surrounding their numbers, providing food for this species of bird is especially important during the winter months when food is scarcer.