Photo: Adam W Ciha/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Red Crossbill

Loxia curvirostra

These stubby little nomads are often first detected by their hard kip-kip callnotes as they fly overhead in evergreen woods. Red Crossbills in North America are quite variable, from small-billed birds that feed on spruce cones to large-billed ones that specialize on pines. Scientists have long puzzled over how to classify these different forms. New research suggests that there may be as many as eight different full species of Red Crossbills on this continent. Slight differences in callnotes are apparently enough to keep them from mixing, and several kinds may occur in the same area without interbreeding.
Conservation status Although Red Crossbills as a group are widespread and common, some of the forms (or evident species) are localized, specialized, and vulnerable to the loss of their particular habitat.
Family Finches
Habitat Conifer forests and groves. Seldom found away from conifers. Depending on region of continent, may breed mainly in pines, or may be in spruce, hemlock, Douglas-fir, or other evergreens. Different races may favor different forest types. Wandering flocks may appear in plantings of conifers in parks or suburbs well away from usual range.
These stubby little nomads are often first detected by their hard kip-kip callnotes as they fly overhead in evergreen woods. Red Crossbills in North America are quite variable, from small-billed birds that feed on spruce cones to large-billed ones that specialize on pines. Scientists have long puzzled over how to classify these different forms. New research suggests that there may be as many as eight different full species of Red Crossbills on this continent. Slight differences in callnotes are apparently enough to keep them from mixing, and several kinds may occur in the same area without interbreeding.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Typically forages by clambering about over cones in evergreens. Forages in flocks. Different forms of Red Crossbill specialize on different kinds of conifers, with large-billed birds often choosing trees with larger cones.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 5, rarely 2. Pale greenish white or bluish white, with brown and purple dots mostly concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, 12-15 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Female spends much time brooding young at first, while male brings food for them and for her; later, both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 18-20 days after hatching.


Young

Female spends much time brooding young at first, while male brings food for them and for her; later, both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 18-20 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly seeds of conifers. Seeds of pines and other conifers are favored foods whenever available. Also eats buds of various trees, seeds of weeds and deciduous trees, some berries, insects. Much attracted to salt. Young are fed regurgitated seeds.


Nesting

Timing and distribution of nesting are quite irregular, the birds often breeding when cone crops are best. In many regions, nesting is typically in winter or spring, but may be at practically any season (except perhaps in mid to late fall). In courtship, male may perform flight song display, and may feed female. Nest: Placed on a horizontal branch in conifer, often well out from trunk, usually 10-40' above ground but can be lower or much higher. Nest (built by female) is a bulky open cup, loosely made of twigs, bark strips, grass, rootlets, wood chips, lined with fine grass, moss, lichens, feathers, hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

No regular migration, but most populations are nomadic, moving about in response to changes in food supplies. Apparently does most traveling by day. Most of southernmost records (and most lowland records in West) are during winter.

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Migration

No regular migration, but most populations are nomadic, moving about in response to changes in food supplies. Apparently does most traveling by day. Most of southernmost records (and most lowland records in West) are during winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song chipa-chipa-chipa, chee-chee-chee-chee; also a sharp kip-kip-kip.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Finches Perching Birds

Red Crossbill

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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