McGILL BIRD OBSERVATORY

PHOTO LIBRARY

Common Redpoll / Sizerin flammé (Acanthis flammea)

NOTE: This species account has been moved to Piranga to allow for improved comparison among examples.  
The updated profile is located at:  http://www.natureinstruct.org/piranga/view.php/Canada/3D1C0668E99B7AC1

 Introductory notes:
Common Redpoll is a challenging species, as there is considerable variability within age and sex classes; in general age and sex should be determined only if multiple criteria agree. While the larger rostrata and smaller flammea subspecies differ primarily in size, ageing and sexing cues may also vary. In addition, keep in mind that Hoary Redpoll is quite similar.

 
QUICK TIPS:
This species is quite variable, and multiple characteristics are often required to be confident about age and sex; use caution if criteria do not consistently agree:
  HY/SY female HY/SY male AHY/ASY female AHY/ASY male
Cheeks entirely lacking pink,
or lightly freckled pink
lightly freckled pink lightly to moderately
freckled pink
moderately to heavily
freckled pink
Breast entirely lacking pink or with at most couple of small patches of pink-edged feathers usually 5-50% of feathers edged pink;
occasionally none
usually 5-50% of feathers edged pink;
occasionally none
pink/red predominates
Flanks entirely lacking pink or with at most couple of small patches of pink-edged feathers usually 5-50% of feathers edged pink;
occasionally none
usually 5-50% of feathers edged pink;
occasionally none
pink/red predominates
Rump entirely lacking pink or at most a few pink-edged feathers usually light to moderate pink, occasionally absent usually light to moderate pink, occasionally absent usually light to moderate pink, occasionally absent
Undertail coverts moderate to large dark centre to longest feathers moderate dark centre to longest feathers moderate dark centre to longest feathers   moderate dark centre to longest feathers
Outer rectrices relatively narrow and pointed relatively narrow and pointed relatively broad and rounded relatively broad and rounded
Primary coverts brown with minimal pale edging; outer ppcov narrow brown with minimal pale edging; outer ppcov narrow dark brown with gray edging; outer ppcov broad dark brown with gray edging; outer ppcov broad
Greater
coverts
often showing a moult limit often showing a moult limit uniform in appearance uniform in appearance

Table adapted in part from the "Redpoll Pink Code" developed by Martha Caskey for Innis Point Bird Observatory,
using specimens at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Gatineau, Quebec

Species account updated January 2011

Ageing and sexing overview:

January - July:

ASY - M
Breast and flanks predominantly pink/red; no molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively broad and rounded
ASY - F
Light to moderate extent of pink on breast and flanks; no molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively broad and rounded

SY - M
Light to moderate extent of pink on breast and flanks; molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively narrow and pointed
SY - F
Pink on cheeks, flanks, breast, and rump absent or limited; molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively narrow and pointed; may have very broad dark centre to undertail coverts

-

July - December:

AHY - M
Breast and flanks predominantly pink/red; no molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively broad and rounded
     
AHY - F
Light to moderate extent of pink on breast and flanks; no molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively broad and rounded
     
HY - M
Light to moderate extent of pink on breast and flanks; molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively narrow and pointed
     
HY - F
Pink on cheeks, flanks, breast, and rump absent or limited; molt limit among greater coverts; outer rectrices relatively narrow and pointed; may have very broad dark centre to undertail coverts
     
 

Ageing and sexing details:

JAN-JUL:  after-second-year male

The easiest way to recognize after-second-year males is by the extensive pink-red wash that dominates the breast and flanks, but tail and especially wing should be checked too whenever possible.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), March 2006


The outer primary coverts are broad and rounded, and not contrasting substantially in colour or condition with the alula or greater coverts (note that the photo below is actually a bit misleading with respect to colour, as the difference between the primary and greater coverts was overemphasized by lighting).


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), March 2006


The outer rectrices are relatively broad, but still taper to a relatively pointed tip, therefore the distinction compared to second-year individuals is rather subtle.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), March 2006

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JAN-JUL:  after-second-year female

After-second-year females can show a variable amount of pink; age is better determined using wing and tail criteria, and subsequently sex (if possible) by the extent of pink plumage.


An ASY female with a fairly extensive amount of pink on the breast and face.
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006


An ASY female at the opposite extreme, with only a trace of pink on the cheeks and flank.
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006


The broad and rounded primary coverts are indicative of an after-second-year bird; note that while distinct edging is expected, it may not always be evident.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006


The outer rectrices are broad, and while often fairly tapered and similar to those of second-year birds, they may on occasion be relatively rounded at the tip as in the photo below, which is more suggestive of an older bird.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JAN-JUL:  second-year male

Second-year males can have a variable amount of pink; age is better determined using wing and tail criteria, and subsequently sex (if possible) by the extent of pink plumage.


A lightly coloured SY male, with only a hint of pink on the cheeks and breast.
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006


Another relatively pale SY-male, with only a bit of pink on the cheeks and breast.
Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), March 2009


A more colourful SY male, especially on the breast.
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, Water Valley (AB), April 2009


Although molt limits are expected among the greater coverts, these can be subtle; in general, the wing is not as useful for ageing Common Redpolls as it is for many other passerines, since the shape and colour of the primary coverts differs little by age and feather quality tends to be good regardless of age.


Note the molt limit between the inner three greater coverts with broader white tips and the
others that are only slightly paler, but with less white edging. Overall though the wing is
relatively uniform and could easily be mistaken for ASY.

Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2009


Another overall dark wing with a very subtle molt limit; in this case the contrast is most readily
apparent between the tertials and adjacent secondaries.

Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, Water Valley (AB), April 2009

 


The outer rectrices are on average somewhat narrower on second-year birds, and typically more pointed toward the tip, but the distinction can be slight.


A typical SY tail, slightly pointed, but not very distinct from a typical ASY shape.
Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2009


An example where it appears that the central rectrices have been prematurely replaced,
as they are somewhat darker and fresher than the others; this can be taken as an
indicator of an SY bird, as older individuals replace the entire tail during the prebasic molt.

Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006


An example of the relatively indistinctly-edged and moderately extensive dark centre
to the longest undertail covert.

Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, Water Valley (AB), April 2009

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JAN-JUL:  second-year female

Any Common Redpoll entirely lacking pink is necessarily a second-year female, but some may also have a small amount of pink on the cheeks, breast, flanks, or rump.


Note the near absence of pink on the breast and cheeks, as well as the relatively dull and
restricted red cap on this SY female.

Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006


This SY female has a more prominent cap, and a hint of pink in the cheeks and breast.
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, Water Valley (AB), April 2009


As noted for SY males, molt limits commonly occur among the greater coverts, but may be difficult to spot, and the wing is otherwise quite similar between SY and ASY redpolls.


In this case, all except the outermost two greater coverts (shorter, and with somewhat buffier
tips) appear to have been replaced.

Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006

 


The outer rectrices are on average somewhat narrower and more pointed on SY redpolls, but there is considerable overlap with ASY birds.  SY females can sometimes be most readily recognized if they have very wide dark marks on their undertail coverts.


Relatively broad rectrices that could be confused with those of an ASY redpoll, but see
the corresponding undertail coverts in the photo below.

Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, Water Valley (AB), April 2009


The very broad dark centre to the longest undertail covert is a trait only found on
SY females (though it is not always this large, and may overlap with the pattern of
other age/sex classes, i.e. only presence of this feature is useful).

Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, Water Valley (AB), April 2009


A somewhat more typical SY tail, showing more tapered outer rectrices.
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), January 2006

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JUL - DEC:  after-hatch-year male

 

 


 


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JUL - DEC:  after-hatch-year female

 

 


 


 

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JUL - DEC:  hatch-year male

 



 


 

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JUL - DEC:  hatch-year female

 



 


 


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2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.