Lesser Redpoll

Acanthis cabaret (Statius Müller, 1776) LR LESRE 16634
Family: Passeriformes > Fringillidae

Lesser Redpoll, Sarah Kelman

This small brown finch, with its red poll, belongs to a bewildering group of small finches – the redpolls.

A bird of moorland edge and garden, the Lesser Redpoll is the smallest and darkest in the redpoll group. Bird seed put out in gardens has been shown to attract seed-eating Lesser Redpolls in the winter months. The Lesser Redpoll is on the UK Red List, having undergone a sharp population decline in the late 20th century.

During years when its favoured birch, Alder and larch seed crops fail, British Lesser Redpolls will move in large numbers, even leaving the UK in search of trees in which the seeds have flourished, whilst in good crop years they will only move short distances.

Exploring the trends for Lesser Redpoll

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Lesser Redpoll population is changing.

trends explorer


Lesser Redpoll identification is sometimes difficult.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Lesser Redpoll, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Flight call



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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Lesser Redpolls were abundant and widespread in lowland Britain in the 1970s, and frequent then on CBC and CES plots, but, concurrent with a sustained period of severe decline, have withdrawn completely as breeding birds from large areas of lowland England (Balmer et al. 2013). Uncertainty about the representativeness of the monitoring data prior to the establishment of BBS initially denied the species a place among birds of conservation concern, since it was thought possible that the population may have withdrawn from the lowlands to northern and western UK regions, where monitoring prior to 1994 was less effective. Since a range contraction of 11% between 1968-72 and 1988-91 was evident in all parts of the UK (Gibbons et al. 1993), however, it is perhaps more likely that decrease was general. Accordingly the species was moved from green to amber in 2002 and in 2009 to the red list. Since Acanthis cabaret is currently treated by BOU as a separate species from the Common Redpoll A. flammea, and has a restricted range that lies wholly within western Europe, it arguably warrants a European conservation listing at the next review. The taxonomic status of cabaret remains controversial, however (Stoddart 2013). Recent UK data show a shallow increase since 1995, with a moderate increase having occurred in Scotland during that period; however, especially in lowland areas, the population remains very severely depleted. A rapid increase has been recorded in the Republic of Ireland since 1998 (Crowe 2012). The European trend for cabaret and flammea together is of decline since 1980 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).

Exploring the trends for Lesser Redpoll

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Lesser Redpoll population is changing.

trends explorer


Lesser Redpoll breeds widely throughout Ireland, Wales, most of Scotland and northern England, and more patchily further south. In winter they are largely absent from sparsely wooded areas, intensively farmed lowlands and some uplands. Densities are high throughout Ireland, in wooded valleys and lowlands in northern and eastern Scotland, northern England and Wales, and in parts of southern and southeast England.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Breeding Season Habitats

Relative frequency by habitat

Relative occurrence in different habitat types during the breeding season.

>Bar of similar size indicate the species is equally likely to be recorded in those habitats


Breeding range of the Lesser Redpoll contracted by 16% between 1968–72and 2008–11

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Lesser Redpoll is the UK's resident breeding redpoll and can be recorded throughout the year.

Weekly occurence of Lesser Redpoll from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Lesser Redpoll ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Lesser Redpoll, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Exploring the trends for Lesser Redpoll

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Lesser Redpoll population is changing.

trends explorer


View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

Exploring the trends for Lesser Redpoll

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Lesser Redpoll population is changing.

trends explorer


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Dearcan-seilich
Welsh: Llinos Bengoch Fechan
Catalan: passerell alpí
Czech: cecetka tmavá
Danish: Lille Gråsisken
Dutch: Kleine Barmsijs
Estonian: lõuna-urvalind
French: Sizerin cabaret
German: Alpenbirkenzeisig
Hungarian: barna zsezse
Irish: Deargéadan
Italian: Organetto minore
Latvian: mazais kegis
Lithuanian: mažasis alksninukas
Norwegian: Brunsisik
Polish: czeczotka brazowa
Portuguese: pintarroxo-pequeno
Slovak: stehlík hnedkavý
Spanish: Pardillo Alpino


Interpretation and scientific publications about Lesser Redpoll from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

Although sample sizes are small, declines in both survival and productivity appear to have led to the Lesser Redpoll decline. Evidence for the ecological drivers behind this is largely circumstantial but they are thought to include maturation of woodland and a reduction in birch seed food supplies.

Further information on causes of change

Though samples are too small to continue presenting a trend, CES data indicated a rapid long-term decline in productivity and there is evidence that survival rates have fallen (Siriwardena et al. 1998).

There is very little evidence available regarding the ecological drivers behind the decline of this species. In southern Britain, at least, the decrease may be attributable to a reduction in the amount of suitable young forest growth (Fuller et al. 2005, Burgess et al. 2015a), although this is unlikely to have been the main driver (Burgess et al. 2015a). Amar et al. (2006) and Smart et al. (2007) both found relationships with lichen and bracken cover, although these studies were limited to broadleaved woodlands. Evans (1966) and Cramp & Perrins (1994) point to the importance of birch to the species, which could potentially explain the relationships found by Amar et al. (2006) and Smart et al. (2007). Birch seeds are an important component of this species' diet. Amar et al. (2006) state that birch has declined in many woodlands as they have matured, and this could raise the possibility of winter food as a factor in the species decline, although this evidence is circumstantial and given that species with similar winter diet, such as Siskin, are faring better, may be unlikely.

Information about conservation actions

The circumstantial evidence discussed in the Causes of Change section (above) suggests that maturation of woodland may have contributed to the decline of this species, in particular birch (Amar et al. 2006; Smart et al. 2007); hence planting birch may benefit this species by providing food during winter. Garden feeders may also help the species, particularly if winter survival is a driver of the decline. However, further research is needed to confirm the drivers of change for the species and to identify potential conservation actions.

Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com

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