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.

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

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

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.
Learn more about this sound collection.