Have you observed groups of birds chirping and fluttering around high in the pines recently? If so, you were probably observing red crossbills. To me, these birds are iconic of late winter, as they are the noisiest birds I hear during this time.
Red crossbills travel in small flocks, and their occurrence is closely-related to the presence of mature, seed-bearing conifers, especially large pine trees in our area. Crossbills feed almost exclusively on the seeds found inside the cones of these trees.
These birds’ crossed bills are used to push up the cone scales and access the seeds inside. Unlike most other birds, crossbills breeding time is dependent almost solely on the presence of an adequate cone crop, since even the baby birds rely on seeds for food. Consequently, these birds can breed at almost any time of year.
To learn more about these fascinating Methow neighbors, check out more facts, beautiful photos, and a recording of their call here.
Photo at right: One of our conservation easements that would be a great place to be a red crossbill.