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A Crossbill's Beak Does the Job

The right tool for the work at hand!
© Gregg Thompson View Large

A close look at this Red Crossbill reveals a curious adaptation. The long tips of the upper and lower bill don't meet, but instead cross over each other. The bills of young birds are not crossed at hatching, but cross as they grow. The Red Crossbill bites between the scales of a cone and pries them apart by opening its bill, then dislodges the seed with its tongue. Be sure to watch the video!

Full Transcript



A Crossbill’s Beak Does the Job

Adapted from a story by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote.
[Call of a Red Crossbill]
That’s the sound of a Red Crossbill. Crossbills travel in a small flock in search of seeds from the cones of pines, spruces, and firs. How they obtain those seeds involves a curious adaptation of their bills.
[Call of a small flock of Red Crossbills]
First, cross your fingers, like one does for good luck. Now, just like your finger tips, the long tips of the Crossbill’s upper and lower bill don’t meet, but instead cross over each other.
 [Call of the Red Crossbill]
To feed, the bird first detaches a cone from a conifer and holds that cone parallel to the branch with its feet. The bird then bites between the scales of the cone and pries them apart by opening its carefully crafted bill. Holding the scales apart, the bird then dislodges the seed with its tongue.
 [Call of the Red Crossbill]
Red Crossbills search for cones on the tops of the trees, climbing around using their feet and bills, much like parrots. And strangely, they’ll breed in winter, if the cone crop is good enough.
 [Call of the Red Crossbill]
Today’s show brought to you by Forterra, saving the places that are keystones of a sustainable future in the Pacific Northwest.
Writers for BirdNote include Frances Wood, Bob Sundstrom, Ellen Blackstone, Todd Peterson, Rick Wright, and Girl-Scientist. I’m Michael Stein.
Call of the Red Crossbill provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller.
Ambient recorded by CP June 06G5
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2009/2017 Tune In to  January 2017    Narrator: Michael Stein

ID# RECR-01b-2009-07-12     RECR-01c

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