Once upon a time, not very long ago, I used to be content with the notion that a redpoll was a redpoll was a redpoll. All that changed just over a month ago when a mealy redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea) joined the gang of lesser redpolls (Carduelis flammea cabaret) visiting my garden bird feeders.
I get lesser redpolls in the garden every winter, and lovely little birds they are too. But back in early January I was casually watching a few of these charming little finches jostle for position on the feeder, when I noticed one bird in particular that looked very different. It was noticeably chunkier, and much paler in appearance – more of a frosty grey-brown than the usual warm brown and buff tones of the lessers.
I dived for the books… and opened up a real can of worms. Redpoll identification, it turns out, can be a real NIGHTMARE!
After a bit of reading, comparing and some more watching… followed by more reading and head-scratching, I was convinced that the paler bird was a mealy redpoll — the nominate sub-species of the common redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea).