Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)

This bird, split in 2000 as a separate species from Lesser Redpoll, is still known by some birdwatchers by its former name of Mealy Redpoll. During the period of the Atlas there were just three records, all of single birds, in winter 2005/ 06: Inner Marsh Farm (SJ37B), Frodsham Marsh (SJ47Y) and Fiddler’s Ferry (SJ58M), where a bird was reported on three dates in February 2006. They were all in typical habitat of scrub or damp woodland, with birch, alder and willow being especially favoured.

Common Redpolls are almost always in mixed flocks with Lesser Redpolls, presenting an identification challenge as the birds seldom stay still. Coward and Oldham (1900) mentioned the species as quite unknown, then Coward (1910) had two instances of spring records in 1905 and 1907. Bell (1962) traced four winter records from 1911 to 1961, and in his supplement added a record of up to three in the redpoll flocks on Burton marshes in very hard weather January to March 1963 (Bell 1967).

Since then, there have been two winters with invasions of redpolls, probably triggered by a widespread failure of the birch seed crop in continental Europe. In 1972/ 73 small numbers were either suspected or definitely identified, especially at Sandbach. The invasion of 1995/ 96 was much better documented, with up to 50 Mealy Redpolls at Rudheath (SJ67R) and up to ten in Marbury Country Park (SJ67N) in late December, then reports from 16 sites in early 1996 including 23 birds at Poynton (SJ98G) 20 January 1996, the same date that one was ringed at Norton Priory, Runcorn (SJ58M), and other reports of up to 15 birds in a flock. Other than these years of mass irruptions, the county bird reports from 1964 onwards contain just fifteen records from ten winters, ten of them of single birds only and a maximum of four birds, from a range of sites scattered across Cheshire, with only one Wirral record. Thus, the Atlas records are typical of the species.

The identification of this species poses problems for observers, and for the county rarities committee. Nine birds ringed at Thurstaston on 27 February 1987 were somewhat easier to identify, in the hand, and one of them soon proved its provenance by being caught in April 1987 by a ringer in Denmark, the first ever record of a British ringed Common (Mealy) Redpoll to Denmark. It is known that other Mealy Redpolls have been ringed at Wirral sites but not submitted to the county bird reports.