Crossbills Acting Cross-Eyed

Filed under Features

It seems that a group of rare two-barred crossbills ‘looked’ at their internal compasses a little cross-eyed since they took a wrong turn and ended up in a remote, windswept outcrop of Scottish islands. No doubt the birds came in search of food but it is unlikely that they’re going to find their favorite snack – larch and spruce cones – this far north.

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Bird Species: Red Crossbills

Filed under Birding Tips

Red Crossbills are brick-red songbirds that specialize in eating pine-cone seeds. They have an unusual bill- the tips cross over each other, almost as if their bill is overgrown. This shape helps them pry open pine cones, to get the seed inside.

These crossbills are found throughout most of North America (and Europe and Asia too). But one Red Crossbill isn’t the same as another – recent research in North America shows that there may be NINE different types, or subspecies…some suggest they’re actually nine different species.

Each type has a different voice, and a different size. Some crossbills with larger bills like to feed on the large cones of pine trees. Other, smaller crossbills have bills that are better for opening little spruce or hemlock cones. These different kinds of crossbills don’t flock together or mate together, as far as researchers know.

These birds live a very nomadic life. Wherever the pinecone crop is richest, that’s where they’ll migrate to – even if that means heading north in the winter. And, unlike most other songbirds, they’re not restricted to nesting in the summer. If there are more pinecone seeds to eat in winter, they’ll build their nests when the snow is falling.