Today was sunny but cold, even colder than forecast, with temps just barely climbing above the single digits above zero. However, the cold was tempered with the arrival of a large group of Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea) to our backyard.
We don't have a lot of avian diversity or abundance in a normal winter on the Great Plains of Eastern Montana, but this year has seemed especially slow at the feeder. Until today. This was the first day we have had a real invasion of winter birds. As the sun came up about 60 - 70 redpolls were chowing down at the thistle feeder.
I spent some time standing next to the feeder to take some photos. Redpolls can be easy to photograph at a feeder, quite confiding and not easily spooked.
It was fun observing the range of variation in the amount of white, red, and dark streaking in the birds, but one certainly stood apart from the others. It was so different that it was fairly easy to tell it was a different species, the Hoary Redpoll (Carduelis harnemanni).
This bird is an extremely pale Hoary Redpoll, probably scoring an 18 on David Sibley's redpoll scale (see below).
(see David Sibley's blog here for more discussion on the scale he has illustrated)
These are all photos of the same very pale individual. He was quite obvious and had a spot of feathers missing on the back of his head.
After reading a number of posts at David Sibely's blog on redpolls, I suspect that there were a number of not-so-pale Hoary Redpolls around. I recall noticing that when this bird was in the yard there were a number of other birds in the flock that were quite pale and were probably also Hoary Redpolls, but when he wasn't in the yard, I didn't see as many pale birds. I suspect that there was a small flock of Hoarys that unfortunately didn't come back when the light was better. I am going to have to go back through my photos to see if I can find anymore that I can classify as Hoary Redpolls and try to get additional photos of some of the other pale birds tomorrow if they show up again.