Common Redpolls (Acanthis flammea) are primarily northern birds, spending most of their time in Canada and Alaska. When their food sources are limited in the north, they move further south. They are rare in northern California, but show up more regularly in New England (where I'm writing from tonight).
I love their ruby red "polls" or "caps." Note also the small yellow bill (with dusky tip), black around the base of the bill, and overall brown/gray/white streaking. Adult males have a pinkish or rose color on their breasts and flanks (stronger during the breeding season), while young males and females have mostly white breasts.
Redpolls are primarily seed eaters. In the dunes this morning they were interested in the seeds of goldenrod (photo above) and wormwood (very first photo).
This was a large flock of birds (more than 100) and sometimes they would swirl around above the vegetation and then descend in a tight group to a seed source.
Here are two images of redpolls searching for seeds — the first while clinging to goldenrod, the second while walking along the sand.
I was amazed at how quickly they could disappear among the vegetation. But this pictures shows how well the streaking on their backs blends in with a background of grass blades.
An interesting note — Redpolls generally have a shallow notch at the tip of their tails. Today, some of these birds displayed very deep notches (similar to a Barn Swallow). In reviewing the pictures, I think the birds with deeply notched tails were molting their central tail feathers (see below).
One more redpoll fact: To survive very cold temperatures, redpolls have special internal seed storage pouches along their esophagus. They can store seeds there and then eat them later — very helpful on a night like tonight! Brrrrr!
P.S. Happy Solstice!