Monday 15 February 2021

Mealy v Lesser Redpolls

Redpolls are like Gulls(!), they are great to learn from and you often need a full suite of characters to be sure of an identification. Some birds are even best left "unidentified" as it is just not possible to be 100% sure in the field. Therefore when friend and local birder Matt Knott posted some photos of a group of 8 Redpolls that he found on the East Devon Commons a couple of days ago, I really wanted to see them for myself. Both the photos and Matt's field views strongly suggested Mealy Redpoll, a rare bird in Devon. You can see Matt's Blog and his Redpoll photos HERE and HERE.

After a soaking wet walk on the Commons yesterday, I had only seen the 8 birds in flight. This afternoon I found the flock in the same area, but this time the flock had increased to at least 18 and maybe 19 birds! They were always flighty and tricky to view or photograph, but below are the results which I have not manipulated in any way, just simply cropped. 

My feeling in the field was that there were certainly some very striking cold toned birds within the flock, almost to the extent that if I had first discovered them myself, I would even be considering the possibility of Arctic Redpoll within the flock! I am not suggesting that, but simply trying to highlight how striking some of the birds appear in the field.

It is always good to be cautious with Redpolls and I am certainly no expert, but it seems that as Matt first suggested, some of the birds certainly seem to tick some Mealy boxes, and today at least, there seem to be some obvious Lessers in the flock too. However, I am very aware not all birds are straight forward and some adult male Lessers can even appear surprisingly large and white! 

At the same time, I also think the photos don't convey the true colour tones witnessed in the field and I only managed to photograph some of the flock!

Regardless of the identification, in my book, Redpolls are a fascinating species that I just don't see enough of in Devon. Thanks to Matt, I am able to enjoy these birds close to home and try and learn from them too. Comments welcome.......

PHOTO 1: Three of the Redpolls within the flock of 18 or 19 birds.
Bird 3 clearly stands out as more buffy/ginger in colour and is presumably a Lesser Redpoll.

PHOTO 2: A crop of Photo 1 showing the distinctly
warmer colour tones of birds 3 compared to bird 2.

PHOTO 3: Bird 3 (presumed Lesser) with two different birds (4 & 5) below which again
appear to be distinctly greyer toned and bird 5 showing rump colour.

PHOTO 4: A bird photographed later in the afternoon and
possibly a bird already shown in Photos 1 - 3.

PHOTO 5: Again, possibly a bird already captured in one of the above photos.
Head shape and grey-faced look quite distinctive, but within variation of Lesser?

PHOTO 5B: Same bird as in photo 5 showing UT coverts.

PHOTO 6: The most strikingly cold toned bird that was photographed,
appearing almost Arctic like in the field. Meadow Pipit for size comparison.

PHOTO 6B: Same bird as in photo 6 but showing rump and mantle colouration.

PHOTO 7: Last bird of the evening, probably within variation of Lesser?

PHOTO 8: A classic Lesser Redpoll photographed a few days ago by the River Otter.

PHOTO 8B: A classic Lesser Redpoll photographed a few days ago by the River Otter.


  1. Nice one Chris. I am looking forward to this story developing further. Riveting! Shame I can only be a distant, vicarious observer though! ­čśä

  2. Thanks Gavin appreciate your comments and pleased to hear you are enjoying the story unfold from afar ­čĄúRedpolls are certainly a learning curve and the more you read up, the more difficult they become! I feel my photos don't truly convey the colour tones witnessed in the field which doesn't help. It would be nice to get photos of the other birds too! I have some sound recordings too, but that is a whole different world of confusion........

  3. Well done Chris, we just don't get enough redpolls down here. You are absolutely right photos don't always give the same field impression, I've found that with Chiffchaffs. I still think Lesser and Mealy (common) should be lumped there is just so much overlap in plumage but some are strikingly obvious. One of Matts pictures make it look like there's at least one very good Mealy. This is ringing a very similar story to the Topsham Mealy(s) some years ago, one was eventually accepted but there was a huge variation in the smallish group of redpolls there too and divided opinions on their identity.

  4. Thanks for your comments Mike, always appreciated - Matt did incredibly well to find them in the first place as they are so mobile. I just wish they would stay long enough to allow the whole flock to be photographed, but that's redpolls for you! They have certainly left me wanting to see them again. Flock still present today but flight views only.