Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Crossbill Month

The calendar may think it's spring, but I beg to differ. If it was spring I would have a yard full of robins, sparrows, grackles and blackbirds.

Instead, what I have is a yard full of Red Crossbills. These are not my usual yard birds, and when the first pair arrived I was thrilled, and couldn't grab the camera fast enough. Soon there were eight, then more were flying in each day. Soon they were at all the feeders, juggling for position with the thirty or so Common Redpolls who have been living in the yard all winter.
The feisty little redpolls were at first a little bemused at not having the food to themselves. They soon recovered though, and proceeded to push their way into the front. The sheer numbers of these little finches have all but cleared the yard of House Sparrows and House Finches this winter.
Admittedly, I have never spent this much time studying crossbills at close range, but I was under the impression that males were red. What they are is reddish, pale red, reddish-green and a hundred shades in between. "Plumage highly variable" is no exaggeration in this species.
The noticeably crossed bill tips on these birds are adept at prying open cones to extract the seeds. Small items are swallowed whole and they certainly don't have any problem eating at this feeder. On a snowy day the crossbills and redpolls can empty this feeder in a day, and it holds six pounds of sunflower chips. We are very popular at the bird store.
This winter has seen enormous numbers of both Red and White-winged crossbills in this city. Curiously, a birding friend four blocks away has had White-winged Crossbills in her yard this winter, and no Red. I've not had any White-winged, so I made quick trip to her house to get some comparison photos. Naturally when I got there the adults had all departed, but one photo-hogging juvenile was happy to pose for a series of photo ops. He was still sitting there giving me his best profile when I left.

Red crossbills live almost exclusively in coniferous forests. They are so dependent on conifer seeds they even feed them to their young. As a result, they can breed any time they find a sufficient supply of food, even in the depths of winter. I am now keeping a close watch on my flock, looking for signs of the next generation in my spruce trees!
- Pat Bumstead - Bird Canada


  1. Pretty daring of those Redpolls to cross beaks with the Crossbills at the feeder. As so said, they must've had strength in numbers.

    Nice close-up photos Pat, really charming stuff. Cheers!

  2. I bet they're glad to see that bird feeder

  3. Great series of the Crossbills. I have had two Red Crossbills: A male and a female. But I've had as many as a 100 Redpolls, and they're not really into sharing!

  4. That is super interesting re: the 10 million shades that the "red" crossbill actually is. Super cool. Nice shots! =) And 6 lbs a day?!? That's some $$! The birds must adore you all. =)

  5. You have a gorgeous, colorful group of birds in your yard, Pat. It's fun to see all your photos!

  6. Lucky you! Fantastic close-up photographs! I have had my fingers crossed all winter for crossbills to visit our feeders but all we seem to attract are goldfinches, House Finches and one pretty redpoll. The plumage on the Red Crossbill is very interesting and beautiful. Terrific post, Pat!

  7. Thanks all, for your kind comments! Lovely warm, spring day today and the crossbill/redpoll contingent is now sharing the yard with quite a few robins. Very red out there!

  8. Wow, amazing numbers of birds at your feeders, Pat! Lucky you!