In the grips of winter, when most songbirds are months away from the breeding season, crossbills are already warming up. It’s all about the food. When the evergreens hang heavy with snow and cones, crossbills can get all the calories they need for the demands of reproduction: courtship, egg-laying, and feeding young. Two of North America’s crossbill species, White-winged (like this one) and Red, are vagabonds, wandering in flocks until they find a suitable cone crop, where they might then stop to breed in small groups — almost any time of year. A third, the Cassia Crossbill, stays put in the forests of Idaho.
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Crossbill Audacity - Crossbills Nest in Winter
Written by Bryan Pfeiffer
This is BirdNote.
[White-winged Crossbill song LNS#133361 from 1:21 – 1:27]
From the tip-top of a black spruce, a White-winged Crossbill sings a rapid-fire tribute to winter. He’s got good reason to sing. Even in the cold, crossbills are nesting.
Among virtually all our songbirds, the breeding season begins with the longer, warmer days of spring — and the seasonal bounty of insects, fruits and seeds. But for crossbills … it’s all about the food. When the evergreens hang heavy with snow and cones, crossbills can get all the calories they need for the demands of reproduction: courtship, egg-laying, and feeding young.
North America’s two crossbill species, White-winged and Red, are vagabonds, wandering in flocks until they find a suitable cone crop, where they might then stop to breed in small groups … almost any time of year.
(Editor's note: A third species, the Cassia Crossbill, endemic to Idaho, was recognized as a species separate from the Red Crossbill in 2017.)
[Red Crossbill call notes LNS# 138310 from 0:40 – 0:44]
Crossbills are finches, and yes, their bills do cross at the tip — an oddity that helps them pry and extract seeds from those nutritious cones of spruce, fir, pine, and tamarack.
[White-winged Crossbill call notes LNS#133363 1:57 – 2:06]
So even in the grips of winter, when most songbirds are months away from the breeding season, somewhere among the snowy conifers, crossbills are already warming up!
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 133361 and 133363 recorded by Geoffrey A. Keller. 138310 recorded by Gregory F. Budney and Matthew A Young.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org February 2017/2021 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# crossbill-01-2017-02-07 crossbill-01