A little Mealy Magic

A morning spent with the Stanford Ringing Group produced some interesting birds, top of the bill being a Mealy Redpoll. After a local ‘species drought’ over the past year, significant numbers of Lesser Redpolls have been recorded across the county over the past ten days or so, including a Mealy Redpoll seen but not trapped, at Stanford Res on 10th October.

Out of 108 birds trapped and ringed at Stanford today, 33 were redpolls, including two which were noteworthy. The first of these was an adult Mealy Redpoll, aged principally by tail feather shape. This one stood out initially because of its pallid, lightly streaked appearance and closer examination revealed features consistent with the species. However, it was not the bird seen there two days previously. Basically, pale face and supercilium, pale and finely-streaked nape, contrasting with rear crown and mantle, tramlines on the latter (buff, not yet white), pale grey rump with darker streaks and larger bill compared with the Lesser Redpolls trapped at the same time. It also weighed in at up to 2 g more than the Lessers being trapped.

Adult Mealy Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Mealy Redpoll with Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Mealy Redpoll with Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

While all these are ‘good’ characters, the clincher was the wing length, which was 74 mm, which is just outside the range of that given by Svensson’s Identification Guide to European Passerines for Lesser Redpoll (68-73 mm for male, 67-71 mm for female) but see below … The fact that there was a total absence of pink in the plumage suggested the bird was a female and the buff tips to all the secondary coverts is consistent with a freshly-moulted adult (complete moult July-September) before they fade to whitish during the winter.

‘Long-winged’ Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)
‘Long-winged’ Lesser Redpoll, Stanford Res, 12th October 2020 (Mike Alibone)

Another redpoll trapped showed typical Lesser Redpoll characteristics but its wing length was measured at just a fraction beyond 76 mm. This one is currently under investigation, although it is not likely to prove to be anything else …

3 thoughts on “A little Mealy Magic

  1. Hi Mike
    It’s an interesting looking bird, though somewhat darker on the mantle than I would expect to see in a Common Redpoll. Do you have any pics of the rump and tramlines please?
    I’d be cautious about ‘clinching’ the identification on a wing length of 74mm.
    The figures given by Svennson for cabaret are for a small sample (21 males, 19 females) and, as I interpret it, from museum specimens. In footnote 4 for Redpoll Svensson givens measurements for 508 live males measured in the UK, range 67-75mm.
    Also the newer Demongin ringers guide gives an extreme outlier for cabaret of 77mm.
    I’ve ringed several hundred redpolls in last two weeks and had one bird with a 75.5mm wing and another with a 77mm wing, despite some plumage features I considered both to be Lessers.

    Tim Collins

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thanks for your comments. Sorry, no images of rump or tramlines, I’m afraid.
      I take your point on wing length, though. However, all other features appeared fine. On mantle colour, adults having undergone post-breeding moult are supposedly darker than the ‘classic’ 1w grey birds which would appear to be more readily identifiable in the field (see plate 8 and accompanying text in Worcestershire Redpolls https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/cafb889d/files/uploaded/Updated%20Redpoll%20article%20August%202016.pdf). Further comments welcomed.

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