Common Redpolls have now started pouring into Connecticut in even greater numbers than we saw last month. Many people (dozens and dozens) reported at least a handful at their bird feeders, myself included. I was able to get up to four birds that spent about 10 days at my home. They moved on at one point around a week ago, perhaps because there was so much other activity with many other species feeding and not much room at the table. I have had everything from a dozen pesky Monk Parakeets (because they're so aggressive and eat absolutely anything very quickly) to tens of House Finch and American Goldfinch swarming the sunflower seeds. This has been, somewhat surprisingly, the preferred choice for the Common Redpolls who have visited me. They have no even touched the thistle seed. Other reports I have heard had them choosing thistle at other homes.
There are several homes that have had upwards of 50 or 75 birds, and now a few reports have come to light that have totals of 150, 200, or even 300 and perhaps 400 or more birds! That many will go through pounds of food a day and quite frankly, I do not know how many feeders you would have to have erected in order to sustain such groups. To think I complain about occasional large blackbird groups or those Monks clearing out all my food quickly, hah! Then again, I would pay the price (literally) to have such a sight to stare at from the comfort of my own window. Take a look at this eBird occurrence map to see just how many have been seen in the state from November through January 17.
I would show you the map from the 2011-2012 winter but it would be literally pointless because, well...there are no points. That is the beauty of the irruptive species and why we love them so. If you have a sizable number of Common Redpolls visiting you then it is time to start looking through them for some Hoary Redpolls. This is an extremely difficult task for even the most experienced birders. Not only is it hard to find critical identification points on tiny birds, it is tough to be able to even pick out a "candidate" bird when you have perhaps over 100 Common Redpolls flitting and feeding all around you. Many people seem to hone in on the Hoary Redpoll candidates simply by finding the frosty bird - one that is very white and pale overall. This may be a starting point in terms of examining it for identification, but it is far from what one needs to be sure they have the extremely rare species. CAS Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull told me a story of examining birds like this during an irruption a few decades ago, but when several of the frosty individuals were captured and examined in hand, only one turned out to actually be a Hoary Redpoll.
While there will be some in our state this year and seem to have been a few certain birds already, the Hoary Redpoll is a review list species, and not one to simply be noticed, appreciated, and forgotten. Photographs and complete documentation are really vital in order for us to get a better understanding of these birds and the differences between the Common and Hoary Redpoll. A couple of other blogs have excellent write-ups by experts with a tremendous amount of experience differentiating the two species.
One is Julian Hough's piece originally published in The Connecticut Warbler in 2008 which you can find here - http://naturescapeimages.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/hoary-redpoll-identification-problems-pitfalls/. Additionally, several pieces by David Sibley can be found on this page - http://www.sibleyguides.com/bird-info/common-redpoll-and-hoary-redpoll/. We'll see how many more come to Connecticut before some start pushing back to the north.