For those interested in chasing the Iowa Hoary Redpoll.  Also, be aware that
we have some weather moving in so watch those forecasts.  I think you're OK
for tomorrow and Thursday but no promises after that.  At least the little
guy should feel more at home with snow.

Thanks to Connie for posting the website link that has directions to the
bird.  If you forget the address, there is a link on the front page of

Ann Johnson
Norwalk, IA

-----Original Message-----
From: [log in to unmask]
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Ann Johnson
Sent: Tuesday, January 09, 2007 7:01 PM
Subject: [ia-bird] Hoary Redpoll

As some of you may already know, experts are often asked for opinions on
difficult-to-identify birds as Records Committees deliberate.  This time is
a little backward because so far we have no documentation to evaluate.  We
do have some incredible photos, however.  Mark Brown kind of started things
off with his post to ID Frontiers asking for some help with this bird.
Unfortunately, only two people responded publicly with an opinion that the
bird was a Common Redpoll.  Mike Kirsch from Wisconsin explained his
reasoning and this was the post Ross was referring to the other day.  What
folks didn't know by reading Frontiers was that several other folks
responded privately to Mark that it looked like a Hoary to them.  Paul
Hertzel and I independently contacted Jukka Väyrynen, a Swede who has an
incredible web site on redpolls that we found while googling.  He had
provided expert opinions for the Ohio Records Committee a few years ago on
another difficult redpoll.  I also asked Cameron Eckert from the Yukon for
his analysis.  As Cameron says and I would echo, people will need to decide
for themselves how comfortable they are with the ID.  However, since we are
all learning together in this fun little exercise, I asked both Jukka and
Cameron for permission to post their responses to the list and they both
graciously agreed.  Cameron has also sent me some photos that I will add to
my redpoll page (  If I receive
responses from others that are substantively different I will ask permission
to post those as well.
Response from Jukka Väyrynen:

I can’t see any trouble in identifying this bird. It’s clearly an adult male
Arctic Redpoll. The outermost tail feathers show a rounded tip with a pale
white margin witch is considered as typhical for an adult bird. Younger
birds have more pointed and worn tips. The pinkish wash on breast gives that
it’s a male. Another typical character for many adult males (both Arctic and
Common but never younger birds or females) is the broad white margin on the
inside part of the outermost tail feathers. This margin is easiest seen in
the pics that shows the tail from below. I my opinion the bird show all
characteristics for an Arctic: conical bill, cold wash on mantle (ground
colour), broad whitish tips on primaries and tertials, broad tail base,
broad unstreaked rump. The streaking on breast sides and flank varies. Most
adult males have less streaking but it’s not unusual with a pattern like
this bird. Especially the birds of exilipes race could be much more
streaked. About the size and shape of bill you may take a glimpse on my
website (the Swedish section) and the link “nabbform”. On this page I do
present several types of bills of Arctics as well as Common Redpolls. The
typical bills of Arcitics are conical and due to this the bill are and looks
shorter. The bill shape is not to be considered as a determining character.
The undertail coverts are as you mention a good field mark for especially
adult males. Lack of streaking is typical for most adult males but not all.
Some may have a faint streak on the longest undertail covert (looks like one
longer undertail covert but it’s in fact two) or even streaking like this
bird. This pattern is in fact also common in adult males of Common Redpoll.
The latter may in rare cases (in my banding one of 2-300 males) also lack
streaks on the longest undertail coverts. Younger males (1-2k) of Arcitics
have mostly faint to clear streaks and are sometimes remarkably streaked
(especially in exilipes). The pattern in this bird is to be considered as to
be within the normal variation of adult male Arctic Redpoll.


Jukka Väyrynen

Response from Cameron Eckert:

Hi Ann,

What a great bunch of photos! My own experience with redpolls extends to
seeing a few thousand annually (flammea & exilipes) in the Yukon Territory
(adjacent to Alaska). This winter has been a banner year for redpolls in the
Yukon with thousands moving through in October; my feeder now hosts a mixed
flock of Common and Hoaries. I looked carefully at all your redpoll photos
along with many of my own photos and some web photos. I also re-read Declan
Troy's 1985 redpoll analysis in The Auk, Ron Pittaway's 1992 article in
Ontario Birds, and Dave Czaplak's 1995 article on winter redpolls in
Birding. Here are my thoughts on the repoll seen recently at the Brenton
Arboretum in Iowa:

I looked at all photos of this bird, but have focused on those which I think
give the best indication (based on overall lighting and photo quality) of
what the bird probably looks like in life; those would be some by Reid Allen
and Ann Johnson, but especially the excellent series by Scott Allen. I agree
with others that many redpolls are not confidently identified to species,
but I don't think that this is the case with the Iowa redpoll. The five
photos posted by Scott Allen clearly show is a Hoary Redpoll.

Plumage & colouration: The overall plumage colouration of this bird is
certainly consistent with Hoary Redpoll. There should be no doubt that this
bird is pale enough for a Hoary Redpoll. In particular, the flank streaking
is very limited, the rump looks pristine white, overall the bird looks pale,
and the undertail is very nearly pristine white - classic Hoary features.
Looking more closely at the undertail - the longest central undertail
feather shows just a thin dark centre and rules out any suggestion that this
is some sort of pale Common Redpoll. The Iowa redpoll shows a broad white
band across the greater coverts that becomes slightly thinner but is still
conspicuous towards the outermost coverts; this is typical of Hoary Redpoll
and unlike Common Redpoll which shows a the thinner white band that quickly
becomes very thin (almost disappearing) towards the outermost greater
coverts. Hoary Redpolls tend to show paler rear scapulars, but this is often
less obvious on birds with quite pale scapulars overall. While the Iowa
redpoll has fairly pale scapulars, a few photos (e.g. Reid Allen #5) show
slightly paler rear scapulars.

Small but supporting detail for Hoary Redpoll: the red crown patch on the
Iowa redpoll looks relatively small and bright. This is shown especially
well on Scott Allen's first photo. The red crown patch on Common Redpoll
tends to look a little longer and darker red.

Body/head shape: Hoary Redpolls show a thick neck, slightly domed back, a
relatively flat crown, and more pronounced nasal tufts. The appearance of
all these features change somewhat as a bird changes position, however, a
number of your photos do show the classic Hoary shape; especially those by
J. Bissell (#122), R. Allen (#3), and A. Johnson (#106). Those photos show a
thick neck and domed back. The photo by R. Allen (#3) shows what I think is
the typical Hoary Redpoll head shape - flat crown with a bit of a bulge
towards the bill. A number of the photos (e.g A. Johnson #035 & #106) show
the more pronounced nasal tufts of a Hoary Redpoll.

The five photos by Scott Allen are a wonderful series that all show the
classic Hoary Redpoll body and head shape. The distant 1st photo of the
perched bird nicely shows the thick neck and domed back. The 5th photo in
the series shows very well the relatively flat head, bulging towards the
fore-crown, and nasal tufts. 

Leggings: Hoary Redpolls tend to show bushier leggings (tibial feathers)
than Common Redpolls. In extreme examples, a Hoary's bushy leggings seem to
hang below the tibia. I will note that this seems to be a less robust
identification feature, since Common Redpolls do show leggings and there is
much variation in the way photos show this feature. Therefore, this is best
thought of as a supporting rather than diagnostic feature. Some of the
photos of the Iowa redpoll show fairly pronounced but not extreme tibial
feathering (eg. R. Allen #7, Hertzel #1, A. Johnson #122906).

The bill: The best for last! The only reason that this bird could be
considered even slightly controversial is due to, I think, one or two photos
(e.g. A. Johnson #122906) that suggest a slightly longer bill than one would
expect on a "classic" or "extreme" Hoary. I know that for a bird such as
this (perhaps a life bird for many) you'd like to be totally certain on
every feature, so I examined all the photos of the bill closely. Many of my
own Hoary photos do show birds with strikingly tiny bills (enhanced by
pronounced nasal tufts), but they don't all look uniformly tiny (ie. there
is variation). As well, my Common photos show birds that are longer billed,
with a narrower base, and often with a more curved culmen than the Iowa
redpoll. The close-up of your redpoll's bill (A. Johnson #072) shows a very
straight culmen (more like a Hoary). Reid Allen's head-photo collage along
with A. Johnson's #106 shows a bill that is pretty broad at the base and
generally looks to me more like a Hoary than a Common. 

But after looking at the various composite photos I was still left wanting a
better view of this bird's bill, that was until I saw Scott Allen's photos.
Sometimes a distant photo is more helpful than an extreme close-up, since we
often observe birds at some distance. The first photo in Scott's series
provides just that perspective and shows the bill I would expect on a Hoary
Redpoll. With that perspective, I looked at the rest of Scott's series; and
they look fine for Hoary Redpoll. Especially, the 3rd, 4th and 5th photos in
the series; a broad base and not too long. Flipping between my Common
Redpoll photos and Scott Allen's photos makes a strong impression that the
Iowa redpoll's bill is more like a Hoary than a Common; the attached
composite photos clearly show the bill-shape and head-shape differences. My
conclusion is that while this bird may not have an "extremely tiny" Hoary
Redpoll bill, it appears to be within the range of variation for Hoary

Also of interest is that Scott Allen's photos made me wonder if there are
subtle differences across North America in Hoary Redpoll bill shape: the
bill of the Iowa redpoll looks broader based (more nominate Hornemanni-like)
than I typically see in the Yukon. 

Aging: We had a rare finch (Lesser Goldfinch) in Whitehorse this past fall
that I wanted to age and also looked to the shape of the retrices to do
that. However, a couple of my bird banding colleagues have told me that it
is extremely difficult to confidently age finches (especially redpolls)
based on the shape of the retrices due to variation. Your other reviewer may
have aged this bird as an adult based on the pale pink breast and overall
pale colour (e.g. white not buffy edges to greater coverts) and on these
points I'd agree that it looks like its probably AHY. As well, my
interpretation of Pyle's figure 342 is that your bird's outermost retrice
does not have the narrowing pointy shape of the HY/SY illustration, and
looks more like the AHY/ASY illustration.

Well, that's about it. I know this redpoll has inspired some controversy,
but I do think the excellent photo series by Scott Allen and the Redpoll ID
page you've compiled establish the identification of this bird as a Hoary

I was out snapping redpoll photos this past fall - I'll send you some for

Best wishes,

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