Foam Lake Birding No. 166

No. 166
            Earlier today as we were having our late morning coffee and watching the House Sparrows and Common Redpolls (hereinafter referred to as simply Redpolls) feeding frantically at the oilseed and Canola feeders respectively the birds suddenly scattered in a panic.  At that moment a Northern Shrike landed in a Pincherry tree near the feeders and proceeded to survey the area.  I rushed for my camera but this shrike was impatient and flew off before I could get a shot of him.  The following morning when it was still quite dark he came again but flew off empty handed again.  Bird feeding stations are a very convenient place for predators like shrikes to find lunch.  It was a good half day before the birds returned. 
            On a more positive note the Pine Grosbeaks have returned after an absence of several days.  I do not know if they are the same birds that were here before as there are more females in this flock.  As a result I did manage to get some good pictures of the females. 
            The number of Redpolls at our feeders has gone from a half dozen or so to four or five times as many birds.  To accommodate that many birds we have put out another Canola feeder.  I am still surprised at their preference for Canola seed when all the other birds completely avoid it.  If nothing else they are cheap to feed. 
            Like Pine Grosbeaks, Redpolls are circumpolar in distribution nesting in the evergreen scrub in the Tundra and flying south of the Boreal Forest for the winter.  Like all finches the males and females are different although the differences in Redpolls are not as obvious as in other finches.  Both sexes are small brown striped birds with yellow bills and red forehead patches.  The males also have a rosy wash at the top and along the sides of the breast.  From a frontal view both birds have a full length broad white stripe that can be compared to a man wearing an unbuttoned suit exposing a white shirt. 
            There is another species of Redpoll, the Hoary Redpoll, that occasionally shows up here mixed in with a flock of Common Redpolls.  The Hoary is a very white version of the Common with very little striping on the breast and belly nor does the male have any rose on the breast only a slight tinge of pink.  The Hoary spends the entire year on the Tundra except for the odd stray that shows up here.  Fortunately, there has been one at our feeders this year.  Now if only I can get a picture of it.  The two species are closely related and taxonomists have lumped them together as one species in the past only to separate them later on.   Presently they are considered two species. 
            This week I have included three pictures of Redpolls.  One is of a lone bird, a mature male, in a tree showing the dark red forehead patch, yellow bill and pink on the breast: the second photo is of a flock of Redpolls (no mature males) at our Canola feeder: the third is of a lone female feeding on seeds of a plant in our garden.