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Common or hoary redpoll? (1 Viewer)

henry_james

New member
Hello, I saw this bird in downtown Toronto today (Dec 13, 2020). It was with a flock of common redpolls so I assumed it was the same, but I was reviewing the photos and this bird seems paler and has a much less streaky sides, which makes me think maybe it is a hoary redpoll. I uploaded the photo to the Cornell Lab Merlin Bird ID app and the first suggestion was a hoary redpoll, but I understand this is AI so it can't really be trusted. I'm no expert at telling the 2 species apart so I was wondering what other people thought this bird might be.
Thank you!
Henry
 

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birdmeister

Well-known member
United States
I agree it's pale, but the bill doesn't really look "pushed in" at all to me, and other features (very brownish face and plenty of undertail streaks) make me think it's a Common.

Welcome to the forum! In future posts, it's helpful to put date and location (e.g "Common or Hoary Redpoll, Toronto, 13 December"), but in this case folks knew what they were getting into as far as species.
 

KC Foggin

Super Moderator
Staff member
Opus Editor
Supporter
United States
I did a search for images of both and I was leaning towards Hoary due to the lack of dark streaking on the sides compared to the Common but I can't make a confirmed decision on this one.
 

Nutcracker

Stop Brexit!
On balance, Common; definitely getting close to Arctic, but still perhaps not quite there; undertail and flank streaking both just a little bit stronger than they 'should' be.

Jackpot is when you can find one with pure white flanks and undertail coverts (y)
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Interesting individual imo. A female/1w? At this time of year, as a precautionary tale, all Redpolls can generally look quite whitish in relatively fresh plumage but a Hoary doesn’t to have clean white flanks or immaculate white undertail coverts (utcs) so the following comes with that big proviso but thinking out loud ....

  • Firstly, Greater’, Common Redpoll, (A.f.rostrata) is darker on the face and upperparts with much heavier streaking and bulkier than the OP, so can probably be straight away ruled out. It is also less common on range perhaps than ‘Southern’ Common Redpoll,( A.f.flammea).
  • There are two subsp of Hoary, ‘Southern’ A.h.exilipes (which overlaps in range with flammea) and ‘Hornemann’s’, Hoary, which is larger than the latter and the palest of all. Hornemann’s can be ruled out straight away on account of the undertail coverts which are immaculately white in Hornemanns.

Which leaves flammea (Southern Common) or exilipes (Southern Hoary).
  • Female Hoary exilipes can show some limited streaking on the undertail coverts and a central dark line on the utcs as the OP shows. I have seen a few Arctics with at least a few fine streaks on the utcs and certainly with a dark streak on the central utc.
  • The red patch may be placed a little far back for exilipes but this might just indicate female (which have smaller red patches in either ssp. )
  • The bill looks borderline to me and there is occasional overlap in bill sizes (I think?) it’s a shame it’s out of focus/and has a feather in it! (no offense) but it’s hard to judge, although to me it looks as if it could fit at the higher end of the scale for exilipes and the lower end for flammea. Structurally, the bill does looks more conical in shape than the stubbier shape of Hoary. However, shadow and varying amounts of black feathering surrounding the bill base/nostrils can change impression of how ‘pushed in’ a bill can look on flammea and how long it looks too.
  • The streaks on the flanks are quite light and look pale greyish brown rather than warm cinnamon brown which favor exilipes imo.
  • However, it’s the general overall paleness of this bird that strikes me more than anything (not just the flanks and belly either) although the contrast of the warm ear coverts with the much paler head is quite pronounced (more than I would expect to see on exilipes ). The flank streaking looks very fine and light and the head also looks quite frosty, which would support Hoary. The buff on the upper chest is quite limited as is the streaking around the shoulders and breast sides. Even as an early winter bird, it is pale enough for a exilipes imo with the proviso that is is still in quite fresh plumage and we have no view of the mantle, scapulars or rump.
The OP seems to be one of those intermediate individuals imo, very pale and within range for Arctic, showing light greyish brown flank streaks, fine utc streaking with a central dark streak which is acceptable in adult female Hoaries (although to what extent?) However, aging and sexing anything other than adult males is very difficult. The bill is hard to properly determine, although looking better for Common. I would personally be cautious in assigning it to Common although, if I had to make a decision in that direction I would. However, I would feel happier to do so, if I could see a sharper image of the bill shape and best of all a clear view of the rump (which I suspect would be quite pale if not white) and therefore comfortably rule out Hoary. I would be even happier to look at the same bird in 2 or 3 months time!

Some references here


and of course Sibley’s which I haven’t had time to read but I am sure will provide some good identification criteria for you


Sorry, that’s probably not much help, given the hesitant answer!
 

henry_james

New member
Interesting individual imo. A female/1w? At this time of year, as a precautionary tale, all Redpolls can generally look quite whitish in relatively fresh plumage but a Hoary doesn’t to have clean white flanks or immaculate white undertail coverts (utcs) so the following comes with that big proviso but thinking out loud ....

  • Firstly, Greater’, Common Redpoll, (A.f.rostrata) is darker on the face and upperparts with much heavier streaking and bulkier than the OP, so can probably be straight away ruled out. It is also less common on range perhaps than ‘Southern’ Common Redpoll,( A.f.flammea).
  • There are two subsp of Hoary, ‘Southern’ A.h.exilipes (which overlaps in range with flammea) and ‘Hornemann’s’, Hoary, which is larger than the latter and the palest of all. Hornemann’s can be ruled out straight away on account of the undertail coverts which are immaculately white in Hornemanns.

Which leaves flammea (Southern Common) or exilipes (Southern Hoary).
  • Female Hoary exilipes can show some limited streaking on the undertail coverts and a central dark line on the utcs as the OP shows. I have seen a few Arctics with at least a few fine streaks on the utcs and certainly with a dark streak on the central utc.
  • The red patch may be placed a little far back for exilipes but this might just indicate female (which have smaller red patches in either ssp. )
  • The bill looks borderline to me and there is occasional overlap in bill sizes (I think?) it’s a shame it’s out of focus/and has a feather in it! (no offense) but it’s hard to judge, although to me it looks as if it could fit at the higher end of the scale for exilipes and the lower end for flammea. Structurally, the bill does looks more conical in shape than the stubbier shape of Hoary. However, shadow and varying amounts of black feathering surrounding the bill base/nostrils can change impression of how ‘pushed in’ a bill can look on flammea and how long it looks too.
  • The streaks on the flanks are quite light and look pale greyish brown rather than warm cinnamon brown which favor exilipes imo.
  • However, it’s the general overall paleness of this bird that strikes me more than anything (not just the flanks and belly either) although the contrast of the warm ear coverts with the much paler head is quite pronounced (more than I would expect to see on exilipes ). The flank streaking looks very fine and light and the head also looks quite frosty, which would support Hoary. The buff on the upper chest is quite limited as is the streaking around the shoulders and breast sides. Even as an early winter bird, it is pale enough for a exilipes imo with the proviso that is is still in quite fresh plumage and we have no view of the mantle, scapulars or rump.
The OP seems to be one of those intermediate individuals imo, very pale and within range for Arctic, showing light greyish brown flank streaks, fine utc streaking with a central dark streak which is acceptable in adult female Hoaries (although to what extent?) However, aging and sexing anything other than adult males is very difficult. The bill is hard to properly determine, although looking better for Common. I would personally be cautious in assigning it to Common although, if I had to make a decision in that direction I would. However, I would feel happier to do so, if I could see a sharper image of the bill shape and best of all a clear view of the rump (which I suspect would be quite pale if not white) and therefore comfortably rule out Hoary. I would be even happier to look at the same bird in 2 or 3 months time!

Some references here


and of course Sibley’s which I haven’t had time to read but I am sure will provide some good identification criteria for you


Sorry, that’s probably not much help, given the hesitant answer!
Thank you for reaching out to me, I hadn't seen your response. I really appreciate your detailed answer and I am sorry the photos are not good enough to ID the bird! I really wish I had known all this information when I found this bird! I didn't realize there was so much overlap in characteristics between the species.
Unfortunately I haven't seen this individual since, but I will definitely keep these things in mind the next time I see a flock of redpolls. Thanks so much for your help!
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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