Podcast

The Clever Ways Common Redpolls Survive Harsh Northern Winters

Instead of flying south, these birds hunker down—and eat a lot.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide. 

Episode Transcript: ​

The tiny Common Redpoll, one of the smallest members of the finch family, weighs only as much as four pennies, yet it survives the cold and darkness of winter in the far North. Most birds depart in autumn to warmer climes. But redpolls feed on birch and alder seeds that are available throughout the winter, no matter how deep the snow. They do it in the cleverest of ways through a series of precise adaptations.

Redpolls are acrobats, feeding with ease on the smallest of branches, even hanging upside down to extract seeds from birch catkins. They may shake a catkin vigorously, then drop to the snow to pick up the fallen seeds in a more sheltered spot. This little bird typically eats 40% of its body weight in seeds every day to keep itself alive.

The redpoll’s expanded esophagus allows it to store large numbers of seeds during rapid feeding. The bird then retires to a dense conifer and while sheltered from the freezing winds, brings up the seeds one by one, cracking their shells and swallowing the nutritious kernels. In a land of extreme winter conditions, redpolls are survivors.

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Credits: 
 
Written by Dennis Paulson
 
Call of the Common Redpoll [132155] provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of
 
Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G. Vyn.
 
Producer: John Kessler
 
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
 
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org   November 2016
 
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