The Common Redpoll is a small heavily streaked brown finch. Well marked individuals show a bright red cap or poll on their foreheads from which the name of the bird is derived. Some males also show a beautiful pink wash on their upper chests. Duller individuals can look very similar to Pine Siskins and are sometimes overlooked when they are feeding or travelling with Pine Siskins. If you have a flock of more than a dozen Pine Siskins or American Goldfinches, check each individual carefully and you may see a Common Redpoll or two. The red caps of the Redpoll can be difficult to see but the chin (the black patch under the bill of the bird) will help you to confirm the fact that the bird is indeed a Common Redpoll.
Common Redpolls breed further north than any of our other regular winter finches; as a result they are often the last finch species to arrive in the province and usually the first to leave. A few of the redpolls always reach the province in late December but in many years the majority do not arrive until January or even February. Regardless of when they arrive, they begin to head north again by mid-March. On an irregular basis, Common Redpolls arrive in the province in massive numbers. During these winters literally hundreds of Common Redpolls can be present at almost every feeder in the province.
Redpolls are extremely social birds and are always chattering among themselves, quietly but excitedly. If they feel safe, Common Redpolls are the friendliest and tamest bird you will ever encounter in your backyard. These tiny birds will quickly come to your hand for food. Even if you have no food to offer, they will happily land on and walk across your body - especially if you are sitting or lying on the ground.
The Common Redpoll will readily interbreed with the similar looking Hoary Redpoll, which is seen in Nova Scotia but only rarely. Some experts now believe that all races of the Hoary and Common Redpolls are the same species with the exception of the Greenland race of Hoary Redpolls which are the size of Purple Finches. Nobody knows for sure if the Greenland race of the Hoary Redpoll has been seen in Nova Scotia, so if you see one, let others know of your discovery and try to get a picture of it!