God’s world never ceases to amaze. One of the tiniest creatures in His creation is designed to thrive despite the harshest conditions in a messed up world.
I speak of the birds in winter. These critters must be the toughest of beasts.
Birds, like other wildlife and livestock, will survive the North Dakota winter if they have food and shelter to escape the wind. Nighttime temperatures may fall below zero and the wind-chill drop to minus twenty or thirty degrees, but the next morning at sunrise the birds are busy at the feeding stations stoking their little furnaces. To witness this feat of survival is truly impressive.
I’ve spent many amusing moments observing the birds feeding at the array of stations I’ve set for them outside my kitchen window. I wonder if they regard me with equal interest from the other side of the glass.
Now they’re back!
One of my favorite winter birds is the Common Redpoll, a diminutive member of the finch family. Their most popular feeding station is an eight inch nylon bag loosely woven and filled with Nyjer thistle seed. Thistle is most favored especially among Redpolls.
The pattern is always the same. First one, then another, then another Redpoll darts onto the feed bag. They fly toward the thistle bag hitting it feet first sticking to it like Velcro. Nice trick for a “thistle missile.”
The Common Redpoll typically nests in the tundra of far northern Canada. Then, in late autumn, their idea of seeking a more hospitable climate is to wander south to southern Canada -- or North Dakota -- where they spend the winter. This gives a whole new meaning to the term “snowbird.”
About five inches long, slightly smaller than a House Sparrow, the Common Redpoll (red “head”) takes its name from the jaunty dark red cap pushed forward on its forehead. Other identifying markings include a rosy breast, two narrow wing bars, a black chin and a streaked rump.
Its close cousin, the Hoary Redpoll, is more frosty appearing with little or no streaking on the rump. Nevertheless, telling the two species apart cam be tricky. Although the Hoary Redpoll nests even farther north along the Arctic Ocean, it may be found together with the Common Redpoll in its southern range during the winter.
Redpolls are neither aggressive nor territorial, just gregarious. I’ve seen numbers ranging from ten to thirty in a group at my feeders. At times their numbers intimidate others of my favorite winter birds, the chickadees and nuthatches.
The distance the Redpolls travel south into southern Canada and the northern US depends upon how early the winter settles over the Arctic as well as the availability of food. Last year I don’t recall seeing many Redpolls. This year they seem more numerous.
Like the chickadee, the Redpoll is a rather tame bird not at all shy of humans especially at feeding time. I’ve heard of Redpolls sitting on a person’s shoulder or feeding from the hand, but I’ve never experienced this. Still, they do come within arms reach when I’m replenishing the feeding stations.
Although thistle seed is by far the Redpolls’ favorite food, they take other seed as well including sunflower and millet. They feed equally well at the stations, on the ground or upside-down hanging under a seed bag.
I’ve read that Redpolls really enjoy pecking at a salt block and taking fresh water during the winter. I’ve offered water without any takers. I’ve considered offering salt and water together.
Redpoll antics are as enjoyable as any other of the several winter birds visiting our yard. I’ll delight in their presence until they once again head north in the spring. Then they’ll be on the leading edge of the great avian migration to settle in their nesting grounds in the far northern Canadian tundra.