Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra

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

Family

Description

5 1/4-6 1/2" (13-17 cm). Sparrow-sized. 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.

Voice

Song chipa-chipa-chipa, chee-chee-chee-chee; also a sharp kip-kip-kip.

Listen

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

Habitat

Coniferous forests; visits ornamental evergreens in winter.

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.

Discussion

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. 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. When the cone supply fails, these birds gather in flocks and may wander far from their normal haunts. They may breed almost anywhere, and, because their chosen food is available in winter, they commonly begin nesting as early as January, but have been found nesting in every month of the year.

Nesting

3 or 4 pale blue-green eggs, lightly spotted with brown, in a shallow saucer of bark strips, grass, and roots lined with moss and plant down, placed near the end of a conifer branch.

Similar Species

adult male

Cassin's Finch

6-6 1/2" (15-17 cm). Larger than both House and Purple Finches.

adult male

House Finch

5-6" (13-15 cm). Sparrow-sized. Most adult males bright red on crown, breast, and rump, but less extensively so than male Cassin's and Purple Finches.

adult male, Eastern

Purple Finch

5 1/2-6 1/2" (14-17 cm). Larger and stockier than House Finch, but smaller than Cassin's and darker than both.

adult male

White-winged Crossbill

6-6 1/2" (15-17 cm). Size of a largish sparrow. Mandibles crossed at tips. Male raspberry-pink; females grayer, without pink. Both sexes have 2 white wing bars.

adult male

Pine Grosbeak

8-10" (20-25 cm). A large plump finch. Stubby, strongly curved black bill. Male has dull rose-red body, with dark streaking on back, dark wings with 2 white wing bars, and dusky, notched tail.

Vireo

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