Red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Life History & Michigan History
A 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
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
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.
Loxia curvirostra (Univ. of Michigan, Animal Diversity Web)
(USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)