Burien, Washington


Female and Male Red Crossbill

The Red Crossbill is a friendly, stocky finch with a short, notched tail and a thick, curved bill with crossed tips. The head and body of the beautiful male is typically brick red with flecks of green and yellow that give it a metallic sheen. The female is uniformly olive or grayish with a green or greenish yellow chest and rump. Both the male and female Red Crossbills have blackish brown wing feathers with no wing bars and a blackish brown tail.

The Red Crossbill is found in coniferous forests and is dependent on the seeds of the cones that grow there. It is so dependent upon conifer seeds it even feeds them to its young.

The Red Crossbill feeds on the cones by inserting its peculiar bill under a scale  and biting down. The crossed tips of the bill push the scale up exposing the seed which the Red Crossbill extracts with its tongue. Inside the bill, on the bird's palate, is a "husking groove". The bird spins the seed in the groove to husk it before swallowing it.

Red Crossbills range widely across the United States and Canada. They will breed whenever they find an abundance of cones even during the winter.

Red Crossbills build a saucer-shaped nest near the ground in a conifer forest constructing it out of twigs and roots and lining it with moss, hair, fur and feathers. The female lays three to five greenish white eggs that are speckled on the wide end with brown and lavender

Because this species can breed throughout most of the year, its molts and plumage vary more than that of other North American passerines.

The Red Crossbill shows a great deal of variation in size, bill shapes and voice. Ten different flight calls have been described  and birds giving each type have slightly different shaped bills and prefer to feed on different trees species with different sized cones.

The ten types include: Appalachian Crossbill, Ponderosa Crossbill, Western Hemlock Crossbill, Douglas-fir Crossbill, Lodgepole Pine Crossbill, Sierra Madre Crossbill, Enigmatic Crossbill, Newfoundland Crossbill, South Hills Crossbill, and Sitka Spruce Crossbill.

Although cone seeds are its favorite and preferred food, Red Crossbills will also eat black oil sunflower seed.