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Northwoods birders take delight in redpoll irruption

It’s a sight bird enthusiasts have delighted in this winter and spring. Dozens of small birds with bright red feathers atop their heads descending upon bird feeders.

The redpoll breeds in far northern reaches of the North American content and typically will winter across Canada.

But this year, the Northwoods is seeing thousands of the small finches.

“In some years when the food supplies are poor, they move farther south. That happens every few years to some extent, just in some years, like this one, it happens to kind of an extreme extent,” said Ryan Brady, conservation biologist with the DNR.

Quite the birder himself, Brady’s been delighted to see the redpolls swarm this year.

“I have had hundreds at my feeders over a month, if not two months now. I had 500 very regularly. I peaked at last week at 1,000 birds. I had 1,000 redpolls at my bird feeders. It was nuts,” said Brady.

A redpoll flies up to a birdfeeder.
Erika Warning Meyer
A redpoll flies up to a birdfeeder.

The redpolls like small seeds like thistle and Nyjer.

Between the high number of birds our region is seeing this winter and the increased cost of bird seed, it’s been an expensive winter for birders.

That’s of course if you can get your hands on the bird seed.

“When I go to buy bird seed locally here in Ashland, there’s not thistle to be found. That’s because everyone else feeding birds is kind of having the same thing. You ask when they’re getting their thistle in. They say they don’t know. When it gets here it’ll be here a day and then it’ll be gone. It has been something else,” said Brady.

He encourages people to enjoy them while they’re here.

Irruptions only happen every few years and rarely in these numbers.

But Brady also urges people to make sure their feeders stay clean, so the bird don’t get sick.

Repolls are susceptible to salmonella, and it spreads easily when the birds concentrate in high numbers.

“It’s important that folks keep an eye out for that disease and make sure that they’re regularly cleaning their feeders,” said Brady. “You can use a 10% bleach solution. Clean the feeders. Make sure that you’re picking up all of the waste seeds that may have gone on the ground, the shells, and kind of all the mess that’s down below and bag and dispose of that regularly.”

Brady says the bird will likely stick around for a little while longer as long as we don’t get a big warm up.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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