Hoary and common redpoll

Two redpolls: a male hoary, or Arctic redpoll on the left, with a female common redpoll on the right. Redpolls are plump little seed-eating finches, with cute faces and complex taxonomy. They have been considered to present as many as five different species, while others prefer just one universal ‘redpoll’ for all forms.

The birds portrayed here are pretty textbook: the hoary is lighter in colour, with a shorter bill, (near) white undertail coverts, larger white wing marking and an overall ‘frosty’ appearance. The common, by comparison, is much warmer and browner in colour, with more and darker markings. However, the distinction is not clear-cut: the darkest hoaries are (far) darker than the lightest commons, and recent DNA analysis showed that there is in fact no genetic difference between the two, only a difference in gene expression. Not enough to warrant separate species status, according to the scientists.

It is good to realise that the existence of species is always in flux. There is no definite way to identify one, nothing that unequivocally determines something is a species or not. It’s merely a matter of opinion and consensus amongst scientists, other experts and even laypeople. To be continued!

– Watercolour, 15 x 20 cm (original sold)