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White-winged Crossbills Foraging

Most of New England is privileged to see White-winged Crossbills (Loxia leucoptera) only during the winter, when these nomadic birds forage south of their far northern boreal forest breeding grounds for conifer seeds during poor cone crop years. 

Spruce seeds are the preferred food of White-winged Crossbills. Their crossed mandibles allow them to pry open cone scales and they then extract the seeds with their tongue.  Individuals can eat up to 3,000 conifer seeds a day!

These birds have been documented nesting every month of the year.  As long as they can find a source of food that is sufficient for egg formation and that is likely to remain for the next month or so when they’ll be feeding nestlings, they will breed.  The larger the spruce cone crop, the longer a span of time crossbills typically nest.  Nesting usually declines by November although young do occasionally fledge in December and January. (Photos of a male White-winged Crossbill by Erin Donahue.)

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11 responses

  1. shielaswett

    Wow, Mary, what a unique bird! I’d never heard of them before! Many thanks! I shall keep my eyes open on my next woodsy walk :-)) Shiela


    February 15, 2021 at 8:09 am

  2. Alice

    What gorgeous feathers! Great photos!

    February 15, 2021 at 8:21 am

  3. Stein

    Great photos!
    Are there any other birds that nest year-round? — other than chickens.. : – )

    February 15, 2021 at 8:28 am

    • Hi Stein,
      There may well be some, but I am not aware of them. Red Crossbills nest late into the fall, and begin nesting in late winter, but I think it’s very unusual for them to nest in the dead of winter.

      February 15, 2021 at 6:04 pm

  4. This one is eating hemlock! Interesting, since most of their northerly range must not include hemlocks. How adaptable and smart birds are!!

    February 15, 2021 at 9:31 am

  5. Virginia Cazort

    Anecdote: When I was a child, in around 1944, in Little Rick, Arkansas, (maybe I have already written to you about this in regard to siskins), a flick of pine siskins arrived in a hickory tree in our yard. They gratefully ate from our hands the cracked hickory nuts we had always fed our bird friends. With the suskins, which had only been reported in Arkansas once previously, was a line white winged crossbill, who also ate hungrily from our hands. Audubon, classes of nearby school children and neighbors delighted in feeding the flock for many days. Virginia Cazort

    Sent from my iPhone


    February 15, 2021 at 9:50 am

    • What a fascinating tale, Virginia! I can’t imagine how excited I would be to have a crossbill come to my hand (or a siskin!)!

      February 15, 2021 at 5:50 pm

  6. What wonderful photos! And what a brilliant adaptation the crossbill is. And… 3,000 seeds in a day? Holy cow!

    February 15, 2021 at 11:08 am

  7. Meredeth Allen

    Fabulous photos, Mary!

    February 15, 2021 at 4:37 pm

  8. Beautiful pictures of a Beautiful Bird! 🙂 ❤

    February 16, 2021 at 2:19 am

  9. Thanks Mary, When you think of the food requirements of these birds it really is incredible how much they have to eat in order to survive and thrive!

    February 16, 2021 at 9:02 am

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