Common Redpoll vs Lesser Redpoll: What’s the Difference?

by Victor
Common Redpoll

The redpoll is a charming little bird, native to the northern regions of Eurasia and North America. Among the different species of redpolls, two are particularly similar in appearance: the Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea) and the Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret). While they both share certain characteristics, there are some key differences that set them apart. In this article, we delve into the distinctions between the Common Redpoll and Lesser Redpoll, shedding light on their physical attributes, geographic distribution, and behavioral traits.

Physical Characteristics:

Size: Common Redpolls are generally larger in size compared to Lesser Redpolls. Adult Common Redpolls measure around 12-15 centimeters in length, while Lesser Redpolls tend to be slightly smaller, averaging about 11-13 centimeters.

Plumage: Both species exhibit a similar overall coloration, including streaked brownish upperparts and a buff or white belly. However, Common Redpolls typically display a brighter red crown and breast, which are less prominent in Lesser Redpolls.

Bill Color and Size: The bills of these redpoll species also offer discernible distinctions. The common redpoll features a relatively larger, pale yellow bill with a black tip, providing a sharp contrast against its plumage. Conversely, the lesser redpoll possesses a smaller, more slender bill with a yellowish-pink coloration.

Head Markings: The head markings provide another distinguishing feature. The common redpoll boasts a small black chin patch, a black bib extending down to the upper chest, and a pale or white moustache stripe behind the eye. In contrast, the lesser redpoll possesses a pale chin and lacks the distinct black bib and moustache stripe. Instead, it may display faint streaking around the cheeks.

Geographic Distribution:

Common Redpolls: Common Redpolls have a broader geographic distribution, inhabiting the northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. They are found in a variety of habitats, including open woodlands, tundra, and scrublands.

Lesser Redpolls: Lesser Redpolls have a more restricted range, primarily occurring in Europe and western Asia. They are commonly found in woodlands, hedgerows, and mixed forests.

Behavioral Traits:

FeedingHabits:  Common Redpolls and Lesser Redpolls share similar feeding habits, predominantly consuming seeds from birch and alder trees. They are highly adapted to extracting seeds from cones and can often be observed hanging upside down to access their food source.

Nesting Behavior: While both species construct cup-shaped nests using twigs, grass, and feathers, Common Redpolls tend to build their nests higher in trees, while Lesser Redpolls prefer lower shrubs and bushes.


One of the easiest ways to distinguish between the Common and Lesser Redpolls is by their vocalizations. While both species have a similar chattering call, the Lesser Redpoll’s song is slightly shorter and more melodic, with a trilling quality that is absent from the Common Redpoll’s song. The Lesser Redpoll is also known for its distinctive “bubbling” call, which it uses to communicate with other members of its flock.

Conservation Status:

Both the Common Redpoll and Lesser Redpoll are considered to be of least concern in terms of conservation status. However, monitoring their populations is crucial due to potential environmental changes and habitat degradation that may affect their breeding and foraging grounds.


Understanding the distinctions between the Common Redpoll and Lesser Redpoll allows bird enthusiasts and researchers to appreciate the unique characteristics of these captivating finch species. While they share similarities in their vocalizations, feeding habits, and nesting behavior, differences in size, plumage, bill shape, and geographic distribution set them apart. By preserving their habitats and continuing to monitor their populations, we can ensure the continued presence and conservation of these charming redpoll species for future generations to admire and enjoy.

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