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Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbills are one of my favorite birds. It was the first bird I ever saw in the pygmy forest. It was a young Red Crossbill hanging upside down from a pine branch. These birds look like Dr. Seuss created them.

Juvenile Red Crossbills have yellow chests with red polka dots and all crossbills look like they have run into a wall, their beaks actually crossed. They use this unique beak to break the seal of pine cones. They open their bills slightly to form a point, then by closing their beak, they open the scale and extract the seed with their fat tongues.

The tips of the mandible begin to slowly cross over a couple of weeks after the young crossbill has left the nest. Interestingly, some cross left while others cross right.

Recent research has found that there are nine distinct types of Red Crossbills, possibly different species, with varying beak lengths. In the field these types are identified by their flight and their songs, which are either a kip or a quip, a chip or a cheep. For most of us, however, we are satisfied to identify it as a Red Crossbill with its one-of-a-kind bill.

First published March 2009 MCAS Whistling Swan
Red Crossbill Photo courtesy of Steve Messick