Have you noticed that the word “Common” in a bird’s name often means just the opposite? This is certainly so in the Manhattan area. The Common Merganser is rarely seen on our waters, but the Red-breasted Merganser can be found on the East River (and less often on the Hudson) on almost any late fall or winter day. The Common Raven and Common Nighthawk are among the most difficult birds to observe in our borough. Then there is the Common Redpoll. (Which, I will grant, occurs more frequently here than the Hoary Redpoll, but only because the frequency of the latter is “never.”)
Common Redpolls have less than ten distinct appearances in Central Park eBird records dating back to their first appearance in January 1994. They showed up again in January and February 2004, though just a single bird was observed on each of four occasions. (It is likely that there were intervening occurrences, as eBird did not exist before 2002. Entries prior to then were added retroactively.) A single Redpoll appeared next in December 2004. After a four-year absence, there were single sightings February and March 2008. Then on 2 April 2011, two Common Redpolls showed up at the Evodia thistle feeder in the Central Park Ramble and stayed for three days. This appearance was well-reported and led to many getting a life Manhattan bird — including me.
They did not appear again until a few weeks ago, 18 November 2012, when birders observed a single Common Redpoll near the Laupot Bridge area in the Ramble. This bird was not reported online until the 20th, and my attempts to chase it met with failure.
I figured more would be on the way soon — after all, this is a finch irruption year of historic proportions. Reports trickled in from nearby places like Kissena Park in Queens and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, but none from Central Park.
Then this morning a reliable report came in on eBirdsNYC of a Common Redpoll feeding with a mixed flock of American Goldfinches and Black-capped Chickadees in a sweetgum tree in Mugger’s Woods. The tree’s fruit was so high that I missed it on my first pass, but then I saw the tree from a distance and turned back. After I scanned a variety of other birds, including House Finches, the Common Redpoll appeared. Its red cap, conical yellow bill, and dark streaking made it unmistakable.
Common Redpolls are identified by call in flyovers as often as they are seen, so it helps to know their “electric” -sounding calls. They are sure to like the Evodia thistle feeders if they find them.