Photo: Phil Brown/Flickr Creative Commons

White-winged Crossbill

Loxia leucoptera

Nomads of the spruce woods, White-winged Crossbills wander throughout the boreal zones of the northern hemisphere, often in large flocks. Their peculiar crossed bills are perfectly adapted for prying open spruce cones to get the seeds; flocks will travel long distances, perhaps clear across Canada at times, in search of good spruce cone crops. When they find such crops, they may settle briefly to build nests and raise young, regardless of the season, even in mid-winter.
Conservation status Total population extremely difficult to monitor because of wandering. Numbers may build up when cone crops are good, gradually decline in between.
Family Finches
Habitat Spruce forests, tamaracks. Seldom found away from conifer forests. Breeds mainly in forests having high concentrations of spruce trees, also where tamaracks are common. When not nesting, may also occur in forest of pine, fir, hemlock, juniper, and occasionally in deciduous trees. Isolated race in Hispaniola, West Indies, lives in pine forest.
Nomads of the spruce woods, White-winged Crossbills wander throughout the boreal zones of the northern hemisphere, often in large flocks. Their peculiar crossed bills are perfectly adapted for prying open spruce cones to get the seeds; flocks will travel long distances, perhaps clear across Canada at times, in search of good spruce cone crops. When they find such crops, they may settle briefly to build nests and raise young, regardless of the season, even in mid-winter.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • immature male (1st yr)
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by clambering about in conifers to reach the cones. Usually forages in flocks.


Eggs

2-4, rarely 5. Whitish to pale blue-green, with brown and lavender spots concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, probably 12-14 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Female spends much time brooding young at first, while male brings food; later, both parents feed nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known. Male may care for fledglings while female begins another nesting attempt.


Young

Female spends much time brooding young at first, while male brings food; later, both parents feed nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known. Male may care for fledglings while female begins another nesting attempt.

Diet

Mostly conifer seeds. Feeds mainly on spruce seeds whenever these are available; also favors seeds of tamarack and hemlock, and will eat seeds of many other conifers. Also feeds on buds, weed seeds, berries, insects. Will eat salt. Young are fed mostly regurgitated seeds.


Nesting

May nest whenever and wherever good cone crops are present in spruce forest, which may be at any time of year, including mid-winter. Usually nests in loose colonies. In courtship, males may chase females in flight; members of pair may perch close together, touching bills, and male may feed female. Nest: Placed on horizontal limb of tree, usually spruce or other conifer, often 10-15' above ground, can be lower or much higher (up to 70'). Nest (built by female, with male occasionally bringing material) is open cup of twigs, weeds, grass, bark strips, lined with rootlets, lichens, moss, plant fibers, hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

No regular migration, but flocks may travel long distances at any season in search of good cone crops. Apparently travels mostly by day. Although not yet proven, some birds might nest in Alaska one year and eastern Canada another.

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Migration

No regular migration, but flocks may travel long distances at any season in search of good cone crops. Apparently travels mostly by day. Although not yet proven, some birds might nest in Alaska one year and eastern Canada another.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Call like that of the Red Crossbill, but a softer chiff-chiff-chiff. Song a series of sweet canarylike warbles and trills.
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

White-winged 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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