Bird GuideFinchesWhite-winged Crossbill

At a Glance

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.
Finches, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Forests and Woodlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


6-6 1/2" (15-17 cm). Broad white bars on black wings (Red Crossbill sometimes has very thin wing-bars). Adult male mostly rose-red, female dull yellow with blurry streaks.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Pink, Red, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape

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.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Trill


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.



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.


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.

Feeding Behavior

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


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Total population extremely difficult to monitor because of wandering. Numbers may build up when cone crops are good, gradually decline in between.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the White-winged Crossbill. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the White-winged Crossbill

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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