Friday, March 15, 2013 Hoary Redpoll ID is tricky

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 8:12 am, sunset 8:01 pm, length of day 11 hours, 48 minutes.

Weather: Thursday, Winter pulled a big surprise, dumping 7" of  snow between 9 and 10:45 am and continuing all day until we had about 13" of fluffy, beautiful snow. It was Winter's masterpiece! Seward looked like a holiday greeting card! The brilliant stars and Jupiter glittered in a clear night sky, and today continued clear and sparkling with temps around 27ยบ.

I hated to leave the sun, but it followed me on cleared roads all the way to Cooper Landing. I visited Bill Shuster who invited me to photograph a very peculiar looking Redpoll dashing in between about 300 COMMON REDPOLLS to snag a few seeds off the deck. The Common Redpolls did not seem to like the odd one, and kept chasing him off.

This Redpoll had a lot more white than the others, an unstreaked rump, and smaller bill. We hoped it was a HOARY REDPOLL, but were to discover that Hoary Redpolls are tricky. We sent the photos to Aaron Lang who thought it was a leucistic COMMON REDPOLL.  He wrote the flank streaking is too strong, the mantle too dark, and the breast too red for a Hoary. The bill looks small in some photos but there is quite a range of size for Common Redpolls. Thank you Aaron, for your help!

Thanks to Rich Macintosh for this link to an article on albino and leucistic plumages <>
According to the article, this would be a leucistic pied Common Redpoll. It has a genetic mutation that prevents melanin from being deposited on the feathers. Furthermore, it is called "pied" because the white occurs in some feathers creating patches, not an overall paleness. 

Bill also had several PINE GROSBEAKS, including a brilliant red male. It was so nice to see them as they are now scarce in Seward. A BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE squeezed in for its single sunflower seed, then shot away to eat it in private.  Among all the Redpolls was a single PINE SISKIN. I didn't know they came in singles! Whenever a MAGPIE got anywhere close, all the little birds scattered.

It was a pleasure to sit in the sun, surrounded by the chattering and antics of all those busy birds. Whether or not that interesting-looking bird was a Hoary didn't really matter. Thank you, Bill for a wonderful afternoon!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

For an interesting discussion on Common and Hoary Redpolls, check out David Sibley's website at:

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