A Whole Lotta Lesser Redpoll

There I stood stock still hidden in the shrubbery of the garden. I was poised and ready, awaiting any movement that occurred in front of me. Every move I made was calculated and measured as I tried to outwit my unsuspecting targets. It may surprise you, but no, this is not a James Bond film. Though I was doing my very best 007 impression, admittedly with some questionable spying skills, my targets were not scarred criminals hell bent on world domination. No, my targets are of the feathered variety and my weapon is my camera. As much as I would love to see Goldfinger, Blofeld and Jaws (from James Bond, not the shark) running around my garden, my visitors consisted of blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, chaffinches and coal tits. As I settle back into reality and just at the moment that I lowered my camera, something else caught my attention. Grasping nonchalantly onto a loose branch he hung there, poised and ready to grab his chance for food. For a moment, I stared at this special little bird, unbelieving for a moment, as he has never shown his face in my garden before. Slightly dumpy, this little finch had greyish brown underparts with striking streaks, a forked tail, a black bib and an eye catching blood red forehead. Can you guess who it was? A lesser redpoll.



Much to my irritation, I failed to get a decent photo of my new guest and, almost mockingly, he flew off and is yet to be seen again. But it would seem I am not alone in sightings of this bird in my garden. Indeed, it has been reported that lesser redpolls have been sweeping through our gardens like locusts over a crop. Although this is of course fabulous news, it is surprising when we consider the position that our redpolls find themselves in. During the Second World War, when forests were harvested for industry, birch, the preferred tree of the lesser redpoll, began to thrive in the plethora of young woodlands available. As conifers also began to be planted, lesser redpoll numbers were booming right up until the 1970s.

However, in the 1990s, a time of Noels house party, long shorts, big t-shirts, the Spice Girls and Friends, the lesser redpoll began to decline. But why? Weren’t they a fan of ‘Wannabe’? Or perhaps they just couldn’t hack Noel and his incessant house party? Well, even if they put you off, we can’t blame them for the decline in the lesser redpoll. In fact, it was more to do with the loss of birch trees. As woodlands began to regenerate, birch trees slowly began to be outcompeted by other, larger tree species. In addition, agricultural intensification saw the eradication of weeds that served as an important food source for the lesser redpoll. Breeding success fell and so did their numbers. The lesser redpoll was now on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern.



However, even though these changes in woodland structures have no doubt affected the lesser redpoll, research has suggested that this may not be the only driver in their decline, with pressures that they experience outside of the breeding season also requiring more in-depth study. So, what else about this little bird? Well, in all honesty, ornithologists find themselves scratching their heads when it comes to the redpoll. What’s the problem? They are yet to decide if there are several species of redpoll, or if there are just different subspecies or even races of redpoll. So, how do we solve this dilemma? Well, in true scientific style, we sort of avoid the issue. When asked the question we look around the room as if there is something terribly exciting on the ceiling and reply with ‘Hmmm?’ ‘What’s that?’ Skirting around the issue rather cleverly, we call them ‘types’ of redpoll……please call back later.

So, there are 4 ‘types’ of redpoll, they all look similar but there are differences. First off, we have the smallest, the lesser redpoll who is found predominantly in the UK. Next and slightly larger, the northern Europe export and a winter visitor of ours, the common ‘mealy’ redpoll. Coming in in third place and at third largest, the greenland redpoll, another winter visitor who is much darker than our lesser redpolls and last, but definitely not least, the largest redpoll is the arctic redpoll, identifiable by his white rump and white underparts.

www.worcesterbirding.co.uk Mealy Redpoll

Mealy Redpoll

webirdnorthwales.blogspot.com Greenland Redpoll

Greenland Redpoll



So, whilst we remain unsure regarding the reasons for the decline of our lesser redpoll, how can we encourage our lesser redpolls to our gardens? Well, one of their particular favourites is nyjer seed and the increased use of this in gardens may be why we have seen so many visiting our homes. It sounds like a small change, but it could make all the difference. Of course we still need our other garden requirements such as fresh water, but give this seed a try, the results might surprise you. Or, perhaps if you have the room, plant a few young trees together in an area of your garden, particularly birch and keep your eyes peeled, even if you just get a few fleeting visits from this little bird, its definitely worth it!

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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