Mealy Redpolls in Northants

Ian Pretty has been fortunate in having this cracking male Mealy Redpoll pay frequent visits to his garden in Grange Park over the last ten days or so in company with around twenty Lesser Redpolls. Ian’s photos, below, provide a great opportunity to compare this bird with Lesser Redpoll, against which the differences in size, structure and plumage characteristics are obvious in this instance.

Male Mealy Redpoll (left), Grange Park, 22nd March 2012 (Ian Pretty)

This is not always the case, however, as Mealy Redpolls are highly variable in size, structure and plumage, with many females and first-winters resembling Lesser Redpoll which, when worn, can sometimes also resemble Mealy Redpoll.

Male Mealy Redpoll with two Lesser Redpolls, Grange Park, 22nd March 2012 (Ian Pretty)

This male, at the top end of the size range, is broad-shouldered, bull-necked and, as well as being generally cold-toned compared to Lesser Redpoll, shows the classic white ‘tramlines’ down the mantle. The rump is also notably whitish with dark streaks. These last two features can also be shown – to a lesser degree – by Lesser Redpoll. The pale, streaked ear coverts and white supercilium (both normally plain buffish on Lesser Redpoll) also show well here as they do on the first-winter male trapped at Stanford Reservoir on 18th November 2010 (below).

First-winter male Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 18th November 2010 (John Cranfield)

Compare these with the more subtle – probable first-winter female – Mealy (below) which was at Pitsford Reservoir in December 2005-January 2006. This bird could also be picked out in flight with Lesser Redpolls by its deeper call notes!

Mealy Redpoll, Pitsford Res, 28th December 2005 (Mike Alibone)

Click on photos for larger images. Mealy Redpolls are rare winter visitors to Northants, with up to 3 records per year in the ten years 2001-2010 (there was none in 2007 and 2009). They can turn up at almost any locality where there are birches and alders but a favoured locality appears to be Daventry Country Park. Visits to garden feeders by redpolls is by no means uncommon these days, with black niger seed being the food of choice.

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