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BirdNote: Crossbills Nest in Winter

Air Date: Week of

A red crossbill. (Photo: Skinnbrager)

It may still be winter in parts of the US, but reporter Michael Stein explains that crossbills are already busy eating and nesting thanks to nutritious pine-cones.



CURWOOD: There’s still snow on the ground in places in America -- but the days are getting longer. And as Michael Stein points out in today’s BirdNote, some species are already busy with the tasks of spring.


Crossbill Audacity - Crossbills Nest in Winter

[White-winged Crossbill call]

STEIN: From the tip-top of a black spruce, a White-winged Crossbill sings a rapid-fire tribute to winter. He’s got a good reason to sing. Even in the cold, crossbills are nesting.

Among virtually all our songbirds, the breeding season begins with the longer, warmer days of spring — and the seasonal bounty of insects, fruits and seeds. But for crossbills … it’s all about the food. When the evergreens hang heavy with snow and cones, crossbills can get all the calories they need for the demands of reproduction: courtship, egg-laying, and feeding young.

North America’s two crossbill species, White-winged and Red, are vagabonds, wandering in flocks until they find a suitable cone crop, where they might then stop to breed in small groups … almost any time of year.

[Red Crossbill call]

Crossbills are finches, and yes, their bills do cross at the tip — an oddity that helps them pry and extract seeds from those nutritious cones of spruce, fir, pine, and tamarack.

[White-winged Crossbill call]

So even in the grips of winter, when most songbirds are months away from the breeding season, somewhere among the snowy conifers, crossbills are already warming up!
I’m Michael Stein.


The white-winged crossbill. (Photo: Zak Pohlen)

Written by Bryan Pfeiffer
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. 133361 and 133363 recorded by Geoffrey A. Keller. 138310 recorded by Gregory F. Budney and Matthew A Young.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org February 2017 Narrator: Michael Stein


CURWOOD: To catch a glimpse of these birds, go to our website LOE.org.



Listen on the BirdNote Website

Audobon: “How Crossbills and Other Birds Are Re-writing the Rules of Evolution


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