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Crossbill female Red CrossbillRed Crossbill male

These curious birds may be attracted to backyard feeders and water. 

Identification and Pictures

Red Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) 

Crossbills are finches which are about the same size as Sparrows, 5 1/4 to 6 1/2 inches.

They get their name from their crossed bills, which do not all cross in the same direction.  Their odd  bills are useful for removing seeds from cones.  They start at the bottom of a cone, and spiral upward, opening each scale and removing the seeds with their tongues. 

 Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

Red Crossbill male
Red Crossbill female Another distinctive feature is their long pointed wings.

Male Crossbills are red with dusky wings, and tail.  Young males are more orange.  The females are greenish-yellow with black wings, and the young are striped.

A similar species the White-winged crossbill has white crossbars on the wings.

Crossbills are often seen hanging from evergreen cones while they feed on the seeds.  

When at feeders these birds can be very curious and may come quite close to people.


Red crossbill maleThere are 9 species of Crossbills.  They do not cross-breed and they specialize in eating different seeds.  The bills are different in each species.  

When the young birds are learning to extract seeds from a cone the tips of both top, and bottom bills begin growing. Because of the pressure from prying, and twisting the upper mandible will curve down, and the lower mandible will curve up. 

 Song and Calls

The song sounds like jip-jip  jeeaa jeeaa.

Crossbill sound

Range and Habitat

Red crossbills range across most of North America, and congregate in areas with pine cone trees.  They are usually in small flocks.  They may move to wooded lowlands in winter, but they do not migrate like many song birds do.

Crossbills like conifer forests where they can be seen using their bills to grab cones and branches as they climb through the branches.  Trees they like to feed in are Lodgepole pine, Ponderosa pine, Sitka, and Western hemlock, each species prefers a certain type.

Breeding and Nesting

Pairs form within flocks and are monogomous.  They can breed at almost any time of year as long as there is sufficient food around.

The female builds a cup shaped nest of loose grass, twigs, moss,crossbill egg and lichen lined with feathers, and fine grass.  The nest will be in pine trees, and the distance from the ground varies.  She will incubate 3 to 5  pale blue spotted eggs for 12 to 15 days.

The male will bring food to the female while she is incubating and to the young for a few days after they hatch.  After about 5 days both parents will feed the young. The young birds will leave the nest in roughly 20 days, but the parents feed them for about a month while they learn to feed themselves.

Food and Feedingcrossbills at feeder

Crossbills eat mostly conifer seeds; however they also eat insects, berries, and other seeds.  They will come to bird feeders for seeds.

Photo by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

For more on food and feeding click here.
For more on feeders click here.

To learn about other favorite birds click here.

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