Bird of the Week


2019/12/bird-of-the-week-Crossbill-300-300x273.jpg Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the red crossbill.

You can spot these finches at the tops of firs, pines and spruces. They scramble over tree cones and hang upside down from them. Chattering and singing, in pairs and small flocks, they forage for seeds using a distinctive adaptation. The tips of their upper and lower beaks are crossed. They pry open cone scales and remove seeds with their strong tongues. They can harvest 3,000 seeds in a day. These specialized feeders reside year-round in mature coniferous forests.

Crossbills are about 5 1/4 to 6 1/2 inches long. Males are a dull red color. Females are olive-yellow. Each has dark, solid-colored wings. Immature birds are streaked and brown. Crossbills are stocky, with short, notched tails and long, pointed wings. Eleven different types reside in North America. Their appearance and vocalizations vary based on their preferred conifer species.

Crossbills may breed year-round, even in winter, if seed supplies are available. Pairs generally form for life. Females build cup-shaped nests and lay three eggs that incubate for 12 to 16 days. When the young hatch, their bills are not crossed. Both parents feed their young as the bills develop. The young are able to extract seeds independently when they are about 45 days old.

Since 1970, the red crossbill population has decreased by about 12 percent. Forest fires and beetle infestations may have influenced their decline by reducing their habitat.

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