Hoary Redpoll Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common NameHoary Redpoll
Scientific NameAcanthis hornemanni
LifespanOver 6 Years
Size4.7 to 5.5 inches
Mass0.42 to 0.7 oz.
RangeThe High Arctic, northern USA, southern Canada

Information & Physical Description

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Scientifically referred to as Acanthis hornemanni, the Hoary Redpoll is also commonly known as Arctic Redpoll and is part of the family Fringillidae, subfamily
Carduelinae.Interestingly, up-to-date, the redpoll taxonomy is still not settled, as there is much individual variation within this bird species, leading to significant difficulties in identifying some hoary redpolls, especially as they overlap with common redpolls (Acanthis flammea).

Currently, there are two subspecies of Arctic redpolls recognized, namely A. h. exilpes,andA. h. hornemanni.

A. h. exilpes, also known as Coues’s Arctic redpoll, is the southern form of the Hoary redpoll, breeding in the tundra across Eurasia, Canada, and Alaska. Coues’s Arctic redpolls are slightly sleeker and darker.

A. h. hornemanni is the Greenland form of Hoary redpoll, also known as Greenland Arctic redpoll and Hornemann’s Arctic redpoll, breeds exclusively in Greenland’s High Arctic, as well as in neighboring Canada. This form of hoary redpoll is characterized by a large white rump and very pale overall coloration.

Although Arctic and Common redpolls do share greatly similar physical features in their appearance, Arctic redpolls are paler than common redpolls. Additionally, some individuals of hoary redpolls are known to possess more streaking and darker overall coloration, as opposed to other individuals that may be extremely pale, with only limited streaking.

The best way to distinguish between a hoary redpoll and a common redpoll is the hoary redpoll’s uniformly pale vent area, and nonetheless, the pale rump patch that lacks streaks.

Arctic redpolls are “equipped” with small, yellow, conical beaks. Their rumps are white in color. These birds’ plumage often displays more of yellow nuances, instead of grey-brown hues.

There are two light-colored stripes on each of the hoary redpoll’s wings. Meanwhile, the forehead is patched in orangish tones, and the bibs are black.

Female hoary redpolls are pale in color, just like males; however, in females, there is more streaking on the rumps, sides, and breasts. Immature hoary redpolls are also lightly streaked on the sides and backs.

Adult females, adult males, and immature hoary redpolls alike have a red crown patch.


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The oldest recorded Hoary Redpoll in the world was recaptured and then successfully re-released into the wild during banding operations that took place in Alaska. The oldest reported Hoary redpoll was estimated to be at least 6 years and 9 months of age; however, solid information regarding this bird species’ longevity remains rather scarce up-to-date.

Ecosystem & Habitat

The Arctic Redpoll is known to breed in sheltered areas located above the arctic tree line. It breeds in arctic tundra scrub where dwarf birches, willow trees, alders, spruces, and heaths are present.

When not in their breeding season, hoary redpolls occur and winter at the clearing, as well as the edges of open fields, weedy valleys, and woodlands in northern Siberia, and nonetheless, along with timberline, urban and suburban areas.

The nominate species is known to race the cold winters in slopes and valleys by favoring Greenland’s warmer interior.


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The behavior of the hoary redpoll is typical for that of other foliage cleaners, as this bird feeds majorly on the seeds of several plant species, as well as shoots and buds from different trees and plants, including but not limited to birches and alders, which are consumed in especially high amounts during the winter season.

While foraging in the winter, the hoary redpoll is to search for food mainly on the ground’s surface, and in the surrounding vegetation by curiously hanging upside down from branches in order to reach the desirable food items, using its small feet to successfully hold the food.

Arctic redpolls are capable of storing food in the esophagus’ extended section.
The stored food is extremely useful during the cold and long winter nights.

Feeding either in small groups or in pairs, hoary redpolls are known to form large mixed flocks outside the breeding season. These flocks consist of up to 100 birds, and common redpolls are often, if not always, among the mixed flock’s members, especially where the ranges of hoary and common redpolls overlap.

The Arctic Redpolls is not aggressive when it comes to defending territory. In fact, this bird species does not defend a territory at all, with the exception of a very small area around the nest during the breeding season.

Courtship displays are performed and involve the males uttering their rapid twittering calls. While the female hoary redpoll is on the ground, the male is to display courtship by hovering above the female, following a narrow arc-shaped route, and this occurs just prior to copulation.

Courtship feeding is also performed.

Arctic redpolls are monogamous. As soon as a pair is formed, the mates are to stay together. It is the male’s duty to perform mate guarding functions up until the point when egg laying is successfully completed.

It is the male to feed the female at the nest during the incubation of the eggs.

Hoary redpolls are only partially migratory. These birds tend to move southwards in November. In March and April, hoary redpolls are to travel back to the north.

Both the physiology and the behavior of hoary redpolls are well-adapted for short breeding seasons, as well as for arctic winters. Currently, the study of the hoary redpolls occurring in the northernmost parts of these birds’ natural range, where only very few other birds are able to remain because of the harsh conditions, is lacking.
The way hoary redpolls manage to cope with the perpetual darkness typical for the arctic winters remains mostly a mystery.

Food & Diet

Hoary redpolls feed predominantly on very small seeds, obtained from willow trees, birches, alders, various weeds, and grasses. In the summer, these birds also consume arthropods, most commonly the larvae and insects of Diptera, Coleoptera, Hemiptera, and Lepidoptera, as well as spiders.


The breeding season for hoary redpolls takes place from the beginning of May throughout July. These birds build a nest low down in a bush or tree.

The nest is neatly built in an open cup shape. The outer layer consists of twigs. The middle layer consists of juniper bark fragments, root fibers, and lichens. The thick inner layer is made out of reindeer hair and soft willow buds.

Female is to lay from three and up to seven eggs. The pale blue to pale green-colored eggs are speckled with light reddish dots at large end and dark spots. It is solely the female’s duty to incubate the eggs. Eggs are to hatch after approximately 11 days of incubation. Upon hatching, the young are helpless. It takes the young thirteen days to fledge.

Health Risks, Survival Threats & Conservation

Due to the remote wintering and breeding areas, there is still only very limited information regarding the population number and population trends of hoary redpolls.

It is estimated that the global breeding population of Arctic redpolls consists of 30 million birds, with 48% of these birds known to spend at least part of the year in Canada. Meanwhile, 18% of these birds have been found to winter in the USA.

On the Continental Concern Score, hoary redpolls are rated an 8 out of 20 scores.

While the number of breeding hoary redpolls varies from absent to abundant, these birds are common to locally common throughout their natural range.

The Russian population of hoary redpolls is estimated at a total of 100 000 and up to 1 000 000 pairs, while the European population is estimated at 7,000 and up to 22,000 pairs. Partners in Flight have estimated the North American population of hoary redpolls at several million, even though strict information continues to lack due to the remote wintering and breeding areas of this population.

In the constant, abundant supply of willow seeds and buds, populations appear stable. Therefore, the Arctic redpoll is not considered globally threatened as of now.

Some of the common health issues that affect this bird species include avian borne diseases and parasitic diseases.

Availability – Where to Get a Hoary Redpoll

Although one can get to admire hoary redpolls in the wild, it is not possible to get a hoary redpoll in the sense of taking care of this animal as a pet.

Arctic redpolls are wild creatures, and they are not traditionally kept as pets. In fact, the possession of wild, native bird species in captivity is illegal, unless the caregiver is to be under the direction of a person who has been exclusively licensed to perform wildlife rescue duties.

If you ever happen to get offered a hoary redpoll for sale, it is best to immediately contact a conservation officer.

One can choose to go bird watching for hoary redpolls in their natural range.
Hoary redpolls are visible in Greenland and Canada from sea-level elevations of 450 meters. Meanwhile, in Kamchatka, hoary redpolls are visible at up to 1300 meters of elevation.

Additionally, it is possible to attract hoary redpolls to bird feeders.

Interesting Facts

1. Usually, hoary redpolls breed in small, dwarf willow, as well as other shrubs in the open tundra. However, in the absence or unavailability of suitable nest sites, the hoary redpoll is known to sometimes choose to nest in driftwood cavities instead.
2. The genus name Acanthis is of ancient Greek origin. It is derived from the Greek word “akanthis,” which is the name for a temporarily unidentifiable, small bird. Meanwhile, the second part of the scientific name for hoary redpoll – “hornemanni” – commemorates Jens Wilken Hornemann, a famous Danish botanist.
3. Hoary redpolls manage to keep themselves warm and survive in extremely cold temperatures thanks to their fluffy body feathers. Their feathers are soft-tipped and elongated, allowing the birds to efficiently trap air against the body; thus, it is well protected from the cold with the use of all natural insulation. Additionally, these birds are “equipped” with feathers on particular areas of their bodies that are actually bare, featherless in most other birds.
4. In the case temperatures get too high, the hoary redpoll can choose to pluck out some of its feathers with its bill, thus, getting rid of some of its natural insulation when necessary. The plucked out body feathers grow back within only a few days, and by the time the feathers are to regrow, the temperatures in the high arctic environment would have usually dropped down to the normal, low rates.
5. According to recent mitochondrial genetic data, experts have discovered indications about the Carduelis being polyphyletic. Furthermore, based on these findings, Acanthisspp.actually belongs to a different clade, with further information to the data from the 50th supplement to the AOU expected to be provided in the foreseeable future, with more details listed on the Check-list of North American Birds.
6. Adult hoary redpoll males in fresh plumage have commonly described as “drifting snowflakes.” When perched, they highly resemble cute, fluffy, mini snowballs.

How to Care for the Hoary Redpoll

The hoary redpoll is a highly desirable, yet rather rare winter visitor to the northern United States and southern Canada. Some bird watch enthusiasts even get to describe the rare occurrence of hoary redpolls to bird feeders as the happy opportunity of being able to find a needle in a haystack.

It is fully possible to be lucky enough to get visited by these birds, which is considered quite a serendipitous moment, in the case you have prepared your bird feeder well as to welcome and attract Arctic redpolls.

It is during redpoll invasions when a few of the visibly paler Hoary redpolls can be spotted at bird feeders alongside common redpolls since these birds travel together in mixed flocks.

The preferred type of food to fill a hoary redpoll-friendly feeder with including black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds (also known as niger or thistle seeds), and hulled sunflower seeds

The type of feeders that are the most suitable to use as to stand the highest chance of attracting hoary redpolls include large tube feeders, large hopper feeders, small hopper feeders, platform-type feeders, small tube feeders, and ground feeders.

FAQ Section

What Does a Hoary Redpoll Look Like?

Hoary redpolls are overall paler than common redpolls, with two light-colored stripes on the wings, a red crown patch, uniformly pale vent area, non-streaked pale patch, and yellow, small, conical-shaped bill. Females can be distinguished from males by the streaking on the breasts, sides, and rumps, which lacks in adult males.

What Do Hoary Redpolls Eat?

Hoary redpolls predominantly eatseeds from various trees and plants, like grasses, weeds, willows, alders, and birches. During the breeding season, hoary redpolls also eat invertebrates and arthropods.

Do Arctic Redpolls Migrate?

Arctic redpolls are not fully migratory, yet neither are they fully sedentary. Instead, Arctic redpolls are partially migratory, as they tend to move southward in November, and then return back to the north in March and April.

Is the Hoary Redpoll a Finch?

Yes, the hoary redpoll, just like the common redpolls, is one of the “winter finches.” Redpolls are part of the family Fringillidae, the true finches’ family.

Is the Hoary Redpoll Endangered?

The global population of hoary redpolls is estimated at about 26,000,000 individuals and is further evaluated to not show severe sings of decline that could potentially necessitate the inclusion of Acanthis hornemanni on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As of now, the current evaluation status of the Arctic redpoll is Least Concern; however, the possible adverse impact of climate change on these birds’ populations and future survival remain unknown up-to-date.

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