Crossbills the happy wanderers of the bird world

If you see Crossbills close at hand, you can see the feature which gives them their name.
The upper part of the beak is longer than most, and is strongly hooked. The lower mandible is bent upward, and both are skewed to the side so they can cross.
The crossed mandibles are an adaptation to allow these birds to get at their favourite food–the seeds of evergreen cones. The crossed beak makes a perfect little machine to snip out the hard scales of the cones to expose the seeds underneath.
They don’t live entirely on pine seeds but other foods sometimes present a problem. To get seeds which are on the ground, for example, crossbills have to turn their heads sideways.
Crossbills have other oddities about them, too. For one thing, they move about in the evergreen trees like small parrots. They will hang upside down by their feet, or even one foot.
They clamber around the branches in exactly the same way a parrot does, with a kind of walking movement.
There are two species of crossbills. The Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) also is found in Europe. The male bird is quite a dull red. The wings and tail are dark but not quite black.
Females are a common olive gray with yellow parts.
The other bird is the White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera). This male also is red but with a much more pinkish cast. Wings are quite black, with two prominent white bars.
The females again are dull olive but they do have the broad white wing bars.
In winter, they tend to travel in mixed flocks. When the birds are flying, the white wing bars show up very well, which makes for an easy way to tell the two species apart.
Both of these birds inhabit the northern forest regions of Canada. Along the southern boundary, they have been known to breed but not very often. As a matter of fact, they have a very casual attitude toward settling down.
They may nest either early or late, as they choose. And they also may nest in one place in large numbers one year, and not nest there at all the next one, or even for several years.
No one knows why these birds have such erratic nesting habits.
Watch for crossbills in the pine trees although they don’t necessarily stay there. Sometimes they move in large numbers into southern Canada, and down into the States. In some years, they may be totally absent from large areas–even in their northern homelands.
They are completely unpredictable.
Both crossbills exhibit a very tolerant attitude toward people. They are very tame, and you can get within a couple of feet of feeding crossbills most of the time.
They seem to be the happy wanderers of the bird world. Household duties and place a residence are all very haphazard. Who knows–maybe they are happier than the rest of us?

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