Hoary Redpoll

Acanthis hornemanni

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 2000
  • Alan G. Knox and Peter E. Lowther

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Hoary Redpoll in North America.

During winter this species occurs irregularly south to the dashed line. This species also breeds in Europe and Asia. See text for details.

Adult male Hoary Redpoll, Seward Peninsula, AK, May

; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Female or immature Hoary Redpoll, St. Louis Co., MN, 3 February.

Extremely pale individuals, such as this, are often comfortably identified as Hoary Redpolls, but in reality they are more variable, and darker examples are likely passed off as paler Common Redpolls (see Distinguishing Characteristics article for more). The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinicola/., Feb 04, 2013; photographer Chris Wood

Female or immature Hoary Redpoll, St. John's, NL, 24 January.

The high arctic breeding subspecies hornemanni is characterized by large size, and extreme whiteness. Even in non-adult males, like this bird, the plumage is quite white overall. The very whitish overall appearance of this bird would make it stand out in a flock of typical Common Redpolls. The following is a link to this photographer's website: http://birdingnewfoundland.blogspot.com/2010/01/hornemanns-redpoll.html., Jan 25, 2013; photographer David Brown

Editor's Note: Recent mitochondrial genetic data indicate that Carduelis is polyphyletic and that Acanthis spp. belong to different clade. See the 50th supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds for details. Future revisions of this account will reflect this change.

A bright little bird of the high Arctic, rarely studied except in winter when it comes more into contact with humans, the Hoary Redpoll has 2-yr irruptive population cycles, similar to and linked to those of the Common Redpoll, when this species becomes more abundant at the southern edge of its wintering range. Such irruptions reflect seed availability in the normal range of these species. Much of the biology of the Hoary Redpoll is poorly known but undoubtedly similar to that of the Common Redpoll, whose company it often shares.

Adult males in fresh plumage have been likened to drifting snowflakes and resemble fluffy snowballs when perched. Dense, loose plumage provides extra insulation from the harsh conditions in which the Hoary Redpoll is usually found. The behavior and physiology of this species are well adapted for arctic winters and short breeding seasons. Study is particularly lacking in the northernmost parts of its range, where few other birds are able to remain throughout the year. How the Hoary can cope with the perpetual darkness of the arctic winter remains largely a mystery.

Redpoll taxonomy is not settled. Some Hoary Redpolls are difficult to identify because there is much individual variation within this species and overlap with Common Redpolls. Redpoll taxonomy in this account follows a conservative approach and recognizes 2 species: Common Redpoll, C. flammea, and Hoary Redpoll, C. hornemanni .

Recommended Citation

Knox, A. G. and P. E. Lowther (2000). Hoary Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.544