Earlier this week, Doug Goddard captured images of two Mealy Redpolls feeding on seed heads close to Mary’s Lake, adjacent to Summer Leys LNR. This species can often be tricky to identify as both Lesser and Mealy Redpolls can vary considerably in appearance according to age, sex, moult and feather wear, with some practically defying identification altogether. Most Mealies first attract attention as a result of their being rather pallid and colder toned compared to Lesser Redpoll but this isn’t always the case as some Mealies can be quite dark while, conversely, some Lessers can also take on a rather bright and cold-toned appearance.
Good views of a suite or ‘checklist’ of characteristics is normally required before a safe identification can be made. This individual appears to tick all the boxes: wholly white ground colour to under parts (no sign of Lesser’s strong buffish wash to flanks and breast sides); broad white (not buff) supercilium; large white spot below eye and whitish ear-coverts with darker streaking; white ‘tramlines’ on mantle (although Lesser can show these); strong white (not buff) tips to the greater coverts, median coverts, tertials and primaries. The tips to the outer couple of greater coverts are buffish, indicating unmoulted juvenile feathers indicating it is a first-winter and this is further supported by patchy/restricted amount of black on the throat and around the bill base which will become more extensive with feather wear. Compare the above with a typical Lesser Redpoll, also at Summer Leys.
First-winter Lesser Redpoll never shows such clean white wing bars so early in the autumn (i.e. before wear). The red ‘poll’ of the Mealy is also rather pale, almost orange, which is a characteristic frequently shown by first-winter and female redpolls but ‘poll’ colour can vary greatly across the board, even becoming yellow in some instances (see here).
Finally, here’s the other redpoll which was accompanying the above Mealy.
Again, this appears to be another Mealy Redpoll and gives the impression of being large, long and big-billed – which they are …
For more on redpoll identification see Andy Warr’s excellent online guide.