Today while looking through a large flock of 100 to 200 redpolls in Centre County PA, my eye was drawn to a redpoll that was larger and darker streaked than all the nearby redpolls. In addition, it has a extensive black bib that wrapped up around and over the bill. I had been carefully looking through the flock in search of a Hoary Redpoll, but the possibility of identifying any redpoll other than the nominate subspecies of Common Redpoll is exciting in Pennsylvania. The darker markings, as well as the larger size and longer wings point to Greater Redpoll (Acanthis flammea rostrata).
The Greater Redpoll is a subspecies of Common Redpoll that largely overlaps in its breeding range with the nominate subspecies of Hoary Redpoll, which we refer to as Hornemann’s Hoary Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni hornemanni). In general, Hornemann’s and Greater Redpolls are only encountered in the Lower 48 during redpoll irruptions, and even then they are quite rare. I have been unable to find any previous documentation of Greater Redpoll in Pennsylvania; it is likely to have occurred in the state in the past even if there are no records.
In the photos and video below, the Greater Redpoll is on the right side of the feeder. Watch as it maintains its perch on the feeder, despite the Common Redpolls trying to push it off. Greater Redpolls are often the dominate redpoll in a flock, along with Hoary Redpolls. In Andy McGann’s words, “they just effing own the place.”