Description 5 1/4 - 6 1/2" Mandibles crossed at tips. Male
dusky brick red. Female gray tinged with dull green, brightest on
rump. White-winged Crossbill has 2 white wing bars.
Habitat Coniferous forests; visits ornamental evergreens in
Diet Conifer seeds make up the main diet of Red Crossbills.
They also eat the buds of some trees, weed seeds, berries, and
some insects, especially aphids.
The crossed mandibles of the bill of these unusual birds are
specialized for opening pine cones. Holding the cone with one
foot, the bird inserts its closed bill between the cone and the
scales, pries the scales apart by opening its bill, and extracts the
seed with its flexible tongue.
Nesting Crossbills are monogamous and pairs form within
flocks. The breeding cycle of Red Crossbills is more closely tied
to food availability than it is to season. They can breed at almost
any time of year, and will do so even in mid-winter if there is an
abundant source of seeds.
The nest is built by the female in a shallow saucer shape of bark
strips, grass, and roots lined with moss and plant down, placed
near the end of a conifer branch. She lays 3 or 4 pale blue-green
eggs, lightly spotted with brown.
The female typically incubates the eggs for 12 to 16 days. The
male brings food to the incubating female and to the young for
the first few days after they hatch. After five days of continuous
brooding, the female joins the male in bringing food to the young.
The young leave the nest after 18 to 22 days. The parents
continue to feed the young for about a month after they hatch.
The bills of young birds are not crossed at hatching, but cross
as they grow. By 45 days they are crossed enough for the young
to extract seeds from cones.
Range Breeds from southern Alaska, Manitoba, Quebec, and
Newfoundland, south in West to northern Nicaragua, in eastern
United States to Wisconsin and North Carolina (mountains).
Winters irregularly south to Gulf Coast. Also in Eurasia.
They often move into wooded lowlands in winter, but there is no
consistent migration. When the cone supply fails, these birds
gather in flocks and may wander far from their normal haunts.
Voice Song chipa-chipa-chipa, chee-chee-chee-chee; also a
Discussion Because of its dependence on pine seeds, the
Red Crossbill is an erratic and nomadic species appearing in
large numbers, then not appearing for several years.
A flock of these birds swooped in on April 16,
2005 and I got a few shots, albeit bad ones, of
the males. Their April visit was only a couple of
hours and then they were gone.
In mid-July I
female and her
a lot of time at the
July 2005 Juvenile and Female