A not so Mealy Redpoll

February is ‘Redpoll and Siskin time’ and every year I find the numbers visiting my feeders build throughout the month. At present up to two dozen Siskins and twelve Lesser Redpolls, along with Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Bullfinches, are emptying the feeders daily. Yesterday they were accompanied by one redpoll sp., which I have left unidentified.

redpoll sp., East Hunsbury (Northampton), 19th February 2013 (Mike Alibone)
redpoll sp., East Hunsbury (Northampton), 19th February 2013 (Mike Alibone)












It has some plumage  features associated with Mealy Redpoll and it may indeed be that species but, on balance, I think it is probably a pale first winter/female Lesser

as it has an extensive buff wash in greater coverts and supercilium (not readily apparent in the video) and the size and structure does not differ from Lesser Redpoll,

a male of which also presents a nice comparison in the second of the two videos here. Note the paleness of this individual is accentuated in the accompanying image and video; in life it was a shade darker.  I would welcome any comments.

8 thoughts on “A not so Mealy Redpoll

  1. Hi Mike

    I have never seen a Lesser Redpoll with such colour tones. It might be a trick of the lens or the pale plumage but structurally it does look different to LR. The round and thick-necked head is proportionate to the body – to my eyes the head on a Lesser Redpoll often seems too small for the body and out of proportion. I can’t see this bird being a pure Lesser. They are always brown and buff based and these pics (I take in to account your comments) do not show this at all. It may not be a classic but to my mind this bird has to be a Mealy. In my experience the overall size between Mealy and Lesser is not always considerable (sometimes Mealy looks just like a puffed up pale version). The bill shape, extent of wing-bars and streak distribution seems to eliminate the races of Arctic (not possible to determine rump and undertail covert patterning on these pics).


    Neil McMahon

    1. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it definitely isn’t one, just that my understanding of Mealy ID is that the supercilium should always be white and so should the wing bars. In the image and the videos the ground colour of the bird looks much whiter than it actually was/is and the super + wing bars are suffused with buff to a greater extent than the image/videos depict. I agree that Mealy can look small – males tend to be larger than females so size does not worry me. I’m not sure this bird looks bulkier and larger-headed. At some angles it does, others it doesn’t.

  2. If that isn’t a Mealy Redpoll then I’m not sure you can identify them safely under field conditions. It would be fascinating to find out the wing length of that bird.

    Certainly some of the birds I’ve seen at the Lodge recently look ‘worse’ for Mealy than this bird.

    1. Steve, I, too, have seen ‘worse’ Mealies which have certainly been Mealies! It could well be a Mealy. See my comments in reply to Neil McMahon. Again I have to say, for some reason, it looks considerably paler on film than in life.

  3. Perhaps it won’t be too long before all the redpoll forms will be lumped again into 2 species- Redpoll and Arctic Redpoll, and you’ll be able to forget about Lesser, Mealy, Greenland, Cous’ and Hornemann’s.

  4. I find Redpoll IDing to be a complete nightmare to be honest. The following link is a video of a Lesser on my garden feeders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUpeSXiCfWQ

    Whilst it certainly isn’t as pale as your bird Mike, it isn’t exactly an orange/buff beauty either! Note that it appears to show little to no buff on the wingbar – just to confuse things. If it wasn’t for the fact that I saw this bird in May and managed to get a good look at the wing length I probably would’ve had to have chalked it up as an unknown.

    1. Yes, Jamie, you are right. I have had a great opportunity to watch Lesser Redpolls at close quarters in my garden on a daily basis during the latter half of the winter. No two individuals were exactly alike! Lesser (and the other species) are probably more variable than many people imagine.

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