Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra

adult male
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female
Laure W. Neish/VIREO
juvenile
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Family

Description

These stubby little nomads are often first detected by their hard kip-kip callnotes as they fly overhead in evergreen woods. Red Crossbills in North America are quite variable, from small-billed birds that feed on spruce cones to large-billed ones that specialize on pines. Scientists have long puzzled over how to classify these different forms. New research suggests that there may be as many as eight different full species of Red Crossbills on this continent. Slight differences in callnotes are apparently enough to keep them from mixing, and several kinds may occur in the same area without interbreeding.

Habitat

Conifer forests and groves. Seldom found away from conifers. Depending on region of continent, may breed mainly in pines, or may be in spruce, hemlock, Douglas-fir, or other evergreens. Different races may favor different forest types. Wandering flocks may appear in plantings of conifers in parks or suburbs well away from usual range.

Feeding Diet

Mostly seeds of conifers. Seeds of pines and other conifers are favored foods whenever available. Also eats buds of various trees, seeds of weeds and deciduous trees, some berries, insects. Much attracted to salt. Young are fed regurgitated seeds.

Feeding Behavior

Typically forages by clambering about over cones in evergreens. Forages in flocks. Different forms of Red Crossbill specialize on different kinds of conifers, with large-billed birds often choosing trees with larger cones.

Nesting

Timing and distribution of nesting are quite irregular, the birds often breeding when cone crops are best. In many regions, nesting is typically in winter or spring, but may be at practically any season (except perhaps in mid to late fall). In courtship, male may perform flight song display, and may feed female. Nest: Placed on a horizontal branch in conifer, often well out from trunk, usually 10-40' above ground but can be lower or much higher. Nest (built by female) is a bulky open cup, loosely made of twigs, bark strips, grass, rootlets, wood chips, lined with fine grass, moss, lichens, feathers, hair. Eggs: 3-4, sometimes 5, rarely 2. Pale greenish white or bluish white, with brown and purple dots mostly concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-15 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Female spends much time brooding young at first, while male brings food for them and for her; later, both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 18-20 days after hatching.

Eggs

3-4, sometimes 5, rarely 2. Pale greenish white or bluish white, with brown and purple dots mostly concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-15 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Female spends much time brooding young at first, while male brings food for them and for her; later, both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 18-20 days after hatching.

Young

Female spends much time brooding young at first, while male brings food for them and for her; later, both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 18-20 days after hatching.

Conservation

Although Red Crossbills as a group are widespread and common, some of the forms (or evident species) are localized, specialized, and vulnerable to the loss of their particular habitat.

Range

No regular migration, but most populations are nomadic, moving about in response to changes in food supplies. Apparently does most traveling by day. Most of southernmost records (and most lowland records in West) are during winter.

Listen

songs #1
calls #1
songs #2
calls #3
song & calls
calls #2
calls & song

Similar Species

adult male

Cassin's Finch

Like a slightly larger, longer-billed version of the Purple Finch, Cassin's Finch is a resident of mountains and conifer forests of the West. It is sometimes found at very high elevations, in the scrubby forest just below treeline, especially in late summer. At other times, little roving flocks wander through the woods, often feeding on buds and seeds high in the trees. The complicated song of the male often includes brief imitations of other birds.

adult male

House Finch

Adaptable, colorful, and cheery-voiced, House Finches are common from coast to coast today, familiar visitors to backyard feeders. Native to the Southwest, they are recent arrivals in the East. New York pet shop owners, who had been selling the finches illegally, released their birds in 1940 to escape prosecution; the finches survived, and began to colonize the New York suburbs. By 50 years later they had advanced halfway across the continent, meeting their western kin on the Great Plains.

adult male, Eastern

Purple Finch

Not really purple, more of an old-rose color is the male Purple Finch. This species is common in the North and East, and along the Pacific seaboard, but it is very rare in much of the Rocky Mountains region. Purple Finches feed up in trees and on the ground in open woods. They readily come to bird feeders; but they have become less numerous as feeder visitors in the Northeast, where competition with introduced House Sparrows and then House Finches may have driven them back into the woods.

adult male

White-winged Crossbill

Nomads of the spruce woods, White-winged Crossbills wander throughout the boreal zones of the northern hemisphere, often in large flocks. Their peculiar crossed bills are perfectly adapted for prying open spruce cones to get the seeds; flocks will travel long distances, perhaps clear across Canada at times, in search of good spruce cone crops. When they find such crops, they may settle briefly to build nests and raise young, regardless of the season, even in mid-winter.

adult male

Pine Grosbeak

A big boreal finch, uncommon but widespread in spruce and fir forests of the North and the high mountains. It is often absurdly tame, allowing very close approach; ironically, this sometimes makes it easy to overlook in dense coniferous forest, since it may sit motionless as a birder walks by. On those occasions when Pine Grosbeaks move south in winter, they may be more conspicuous, often feeding on buds in the bare branches of maples or other trees.

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