Just like their relatives the White-Winged Crossbills, Red Crossbills are common in K-Country, though their populations can be irruptive. Both have the unique crossed bills. Both can be “left billed” or “right billed”. With a trained eye, they’re not that hard to tell apart. Always look for the white wing bars; they’re on both male and female White-Winged, but not on male or female Red Crossbills.
Male Red Crossbills can range from almost orange to deep red in colour, but they always have black wings. Female Reds, like White-Winged females, typically exhibit grayish-green to olive-brown plumage. This helps them blend in with their surroundings.
Diet and Feeding:
One of the most striking aspects of Crossbills is their specialized beaks. The upper and lower mandibles of their beaks cross at the tips, hence their name. This extraordinary adaptation allows them to access and extract seeds from conifer cones, their primary food source. Red Crossbills possess remarkable dexterity, using their crossed beaks to pry open tightly closed cones and expertly extract the seeds within. This unique feeding behavior gives them a distinct advantage, particularly in coniferous forests where they can find an abundance of cone-bearing trees.
Range and Habitat:
Red Crossbills have a broad distribution across North America, Europe, and Asia. In North America, their range extends from coast to coast. It encompasses various forested regions, including the boreal forests of Canada, the Rocky Mountains, and parts of the western United States. In Europe and Asia, they can be found in similar conifer-dominated habitats, such as the taiga and mountainous regions.
Red Crossbills are all-season residents, usually. Migratory behavior of Red Crossbills is somewhat irregular and driven by the availability of their primary food source. Since their diet consists primarily of conifer seeds, their movements are closely tied to the cone crop of different tree species. This means that Red Crossbills may undertake nomadic movements or irruptions. They normally stay within their range, but can venture outside their typical range in search of suitable food sources. Their movements can be influenced by factors like climate conditions, cone production, and resource availability.
Red Crossbills are known for their unusual nesting habits. Rather than constructing traditional cup-shaped nests in trees, they often choose to build their nests on horizontal branches. These nests are loosely constructed, often using twigs, lichens, and grasses. The female Red Crossbill takes the primary responsibility for incubating the eggs and caring for the young, while the male assists by providing food.
Meet more of the cool critters of K-Country here.