By Sue Hirshman
with Kent Nelson
A bird that is called a nomad
with beaks of each type
adapted to fit the cones
of specific conifers
A friend of mine called to notify me of “Crossbills” at her feeder. She has had them different days this month of May eating the sunflower seeds at her feeders. She took pictures of the birds and was indeed lucky to see and watch these unusual birds.
The Red Crossbill (Lovia Curvirestra) is probably the most complex species and hard to study bird of all the bird species belonging to the Finch clan.
What makes the “Red Crossbill” so unique is their distinctive bill, which give them their name. Their bills are double-hooked, each mandible twisting around the other and bending into a sharp vertical point, like calipers. They can separate the scales of conifer cones and extract the seeds on which they feed. The seeds from Spruce, Douglas-fir, Eastern and Western Hemlock and Pine trees are their primary food source. Scientists have written their bills are as finely adapted to a cone as a key is to a lock!
Even their colors are unique. The adult male is a red overall with darker brownish-red wings. The immature males are a patchy mix of red and orange-yellow feathers as they molt into adult plumage. The female is more...