Red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

Life History & Michigan History

Red CrossbillA well-named bird, the “crossbill” is suited for its lifestyle. They have the stout seed-cracking bill of the Finch family. Their unique characteristic is the crossed tips that are used to pry open the cones for pine nuts. Commonly found from Alaska, to Canada south, to the deciduous forest, their primary habitat is conifer forests. Coloration on the males is an orange-red body with black wings and tails. Females are a mottled yellow color with gray tinges on the head and back.

Information on crossbill abundance and breeding has been difficult to attain. Their nesting period is extended throughout summer, and nests are built high in conifers. In Michigan, nests have been usually associated with red and white pine growing in a scattered pattern across open areas.

Observations indicate that families may join together into midsummer flocks. Typically, these flocks will move together to locate areas where pinecones are abundant. At this time, the flocks will use dense stands of conifers. Occasionally, abundant cone crops will entice these summer flocks into southern Michigan.

Additional research indicates that crossbill diets change as various species of pinecones mature. White spruce seeds develop during late summer, white pine during autumn, and red pine in the winter.

Management of crossbills will depend on acquiring additional knowledge about their breeding and nesting habits. From a land management standpoint, it will be important that conifer stands of various species and age classes are available. This increases the likelihood an abundant source of pine seeds are available for the nomadic crossbill flocks.

Non-DNR Links

Loxia curvirostra (Univ. of Michigan, Animal Diversity Web)

Red crossbill (USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)