BTO: A special menu to tempt redpolls

Redpoll on a nyger feeder Picture: Jill Pakenham/BTO
Redpoll on a nyger feeder Picture: Jill Pakenham/BTO
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Graham Appleton, from the Thetford-based BTO, reveals a new bird on the block – lesser redpolls – are coming to a feeding station near you.

Over the years, more and more birds have been tempted into gardens by the food that we provide for them.

There are two reasons for this; we’re developing a wider range of feeds and birds are learning from each other. Only this winter, my local collared doves have discovered how to perch on the hanging seed feeders and now woodpigeons are trying to do the same.

Garden feeding has proved a real boon for finches, with more and more species decorating seed-dispensers.

When I restock the feeders, goldfinches are some of the first birds to take food and, after a few minutes, less-confident siskins will drop out of the alder trees to join them. The next birds I am hoping to attract are lesser redpolls – these are small finches, each with a red spot on its head (poll is an old word used to describe the top of the head). The female is subtly marked but a male has a wee black beard and develops a red chest in time for the breeding season.

The natural home for a redpoll at this time of year is at the top of alder or birch trees, using its tweezers-like bill to get at the smallest of seeds.

Lesser redpolls are usually in flocks and often mixed in with more numerous siskins. If you hear delicate twittering from the tops of the trees as you walk along a local river, take the time to look up and see if you can spot a lesser redpoll.

There are two other species of redpolls that can sometimes turn up in the wintertime – the much rarer Arctic and common redpolls – but at least 99 per cent of birds are lesser redpolls, birds that spend the whole year in the UK.

Lesser redpolls have been having a tough time over the last few years. According to figures collected by our BTO volunteers, there has been an 89 per cent drop in numbers since 1967 – for every one you see this year, you would have found nine just 45 years ago. We don’t know what has been going on to cause this huge decline in numbers but garden feeding might help the species to recover; it seems to have worked for the goldfinch – which is no longer a species of conservation concern.

To provide new ways for more species to eat in your garden, and help the BTO at the same time, phone 0800 731 6770 and ask for an Ernest Charles catalogue and feeding guide. If you want to specifically provide food for lesser redpolls, siskins and goldfinches try a nyger feeder. It’s well suited to the pointed bills of these three charming species of finch.