Extreme Yard Birding–Redpoll Social Attraction

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Common Redpoll, 5 March 2015. Documentary shot, heavily cropped.

I’ve been watching my feeders for months waiting for a Common Redpoll.  Today we were hit by another heavy snowstorm, in which I finally got my first Purple Finches of the year.  But no redpolls.  There have been a few reported today in scattered spots around the county, so they are apparently moving around in the storm.  This was the time to try something new.  I decided to try social attraction to see if I could get redpolls to stop in my yard.

I got a recording of a feeding redpoll flock, played it on a loop on my iPad, and stuck a bluetooth speaker broadcasting the recording out near my bird feeders and put more seed on the ground in the snow.

Just over an hour later I heard a Common Redpoll call as it flew over my OldBird21c microphone (recording below)!

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Flyover Common Redpoll “tchet” calls

Then a couple minutes later as I watched from the window a redpoll flew past and landed on the seed I had placed on a small conifer near my sparrow slick.  It flew before I could grab my camera, but I went upstairs to see if it might be feeding under my feeders (the view from downstairs was obscured by snow banks) and sure enough, there it was feeding on the ground next to the speaker!

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Common Redpoll, 5 March 2015


Common Redpoll on ground near Bluetooth speaker (under shelter box at upper right).

The bird flew up into a tree, and didn’t stay more than a few minutes.  But I got a recording, photos, and was able to log it for the Backyard Big Year!


Bluetooth speaker, protected from snowfall by black box with holes in it to allow sound broadcasting


Now I know some folks are opposed to playing tapes to lure in birds.  But social attraction using audio recordings is a legitimate conservation strategy to attract Atlantic Puffins to nesting sites, and has been since used to lure in other rare birds to appropriate habitat where they are more prone to stick if they think others of their species are around–such as Black-capped Vireos in Texas.  Purple Martin landlords routinely play martin recordings to attract them to new colonial housing.  In my case, maybe redpolls moving around the area could use a little social encouragement to check out my yard and find my feeders.  The bird got a quick meal, I got the bird for my annual yard list.  It’s all good.  Right?

Interestingly, the other birds seemed to avoid the feeders while the recording was running–preferring to stay over by the food at the sparrow slick.  After I turned off the recording, the American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins returned to the feeding station.  Hmmmm.  Wonder what is up with that?

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