Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: To see a hoary redpoll, get a good pair of binoculars

STACEY COLE January 18. 2013 10:49PM

This early winter a few of our readers have reported seeing one or more hoary redpolls.

According to ornithologist, Arthur Cleveland Bent, writing in U.S. National Museum Bulletin 237: "The hoary redpoll is a circumpolar inhabitant of Arctic regions. Its range extends wholly across northern Eurasia and the North American continent from Ungava to Northwestern Alaska. It breeds in the far north and winters in northern and temperate latitudes southward to the northern United States. It is noteworthy for its sporadic appearances and for its sudden fluctuations in number from year to year in the wintering range. It is rarely seen in settled districts."

With the hoary redpoll, I find myself in the same boat as Edward Howe Forbush, well-known ornithologist, who authored a set of three books entitled "Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States," published by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1929. Forbush wrote: "The hoary redpoll, called 'Coues' redpoll' by British ornithologists, is a bird that I have never seen alive. In haunts, habits and food it resembles the common Redpoll, and is close to it in size. Probably much less rare in New England in winter, however, than would appear from the few known records. A few of these birds in a flock of common redpolls would hardly attract notice, except at very close range, and under the most favorable circumstances. But, if all such flocks were scanned carefully with a good glass while perched, it should not be so difficult to discover any hoary redpolls that might be among them, because of the whiter appearance of the latter. This is one of the birds, however, we get almost no sight records of in New England, though Mr. George H. Boardman reported it years ago in far eastern Maine."

For a portrait of the hoary redpoll, I turned to the "Peterson Field Guide to Birds", published by Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt in 2010, after the passing of its author, the famous ornithologist, Roger Tory Peterson. In that volume, the hoary redpoll was described as being: "Rare, irregular, 5 to 5-1/2 inches in length. Often found in flocks of common redpolls. Very similar. Look for a 'frostier' bird with white rump containing little or no streaking. Also note stubbier bill and lighter streaking on the flanks and undertail coverts. Some individuals very difficult to identify. Voice much like common redpoll's. Habitat: In winter, weeds, brush and feeders."

For the best opportunity to see a hoary redpoll, study a flock of common redpolls carefully, using a good pair of binoculars. Good luck!


According to John Kanter, Coordinator of N. H. Fish & Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, New Hampshire is home to a very small population of the New England cottontail rabbit, the only native cottontail in our state. Working with researchers throughout the Northeast, the nongame program is helping to find ways to increase their numbers.

Kanter wrote: "Late last summer about a dozen cottontails were transported from the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island and released into a special pen constructed for them at the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington. The pen encloses about an acre and a half of dense shrub habitat.

"Each rabbit was marked with a unique numbered ear tag before it was released into the pen.

"This winter, biologists will trap additional New England cottontails in Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire to add to those in the enclosure at Great Bay. Biologists are hopeful that these cottontails will produce young, which can then be released into the wild. The cottontails we are working with were born in captivity, and must adjust to living in their natural habitat. Supplemental feeding will provide the types of food they have become used to, but biologists hope that, with time, these rabbits will feed more on natural vegetation and less on supplemental pellets.

"In order to monitor their health as they adjust to life in the new enclosure, biologists will periodically trap and weigh the rabbits to make sure they are staying healthy and not losing too much weight. In addition, biologists will use trail cameras to monitor their activity without having to enter the pen and disturb them."

Kanter is requesting public support to help fund staff research, purchase monitoring equipment, including trail cameras, and support supplemental feeding of these rabbits through the winter. This is a special project appeal.

Contributions should be sent to: Nongame Program, NH Fish & Game Department, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH, 03301.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

Nature Talks

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