What kinds of crossbills can you find in the United States?
Crossbills, which are considered a type of finch, are incredibly unique-looking birds. As their name suggests, they have a crisscrossed bill which looks like it would make it impossible to eat! But incredibly, these birds have adapted these bills to allow them to extract seeds from pinecones.
Luckily, all species of crossbills visit bird feeders, so you have a chance of attracting them to your yard. If you’re extremely lucky, you may even see one at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
Here are the three types of crossbills that are found in the United States:
#1. Red Crossbill
- Loxia curvirostra
- Sparrow-sized. Look for their distinctive crisscrossed bills.
- Males are red overall with darker brownish-red wings and white wing bars.
- Females are full-bodied and yellowish with dark unmarked wings.
As their name suggests, Red Crossbills have crisscrossed bills, similar to if you cross your fingers. They adapted these oddly shaped bills to help them break into tightly closed cones, giving them an advantage over other birds.
They’re found in large coniferous forests during their breeding season, especially spruce, pine, Douglas-fir, hemlock, or larch with recent cone crops. But in winter, they wander wherever they need to go to find food. While not incredibly common, they will sometimes visit bird feeders and eat black oiled sunflower seeds.
Red Crossbill Range Map
In fact, they even feed them to their babies instead of insects like most other songbirds. These crossbills typically breed in late summer but can actually breed any time during the year if a large enough cone crop is available.
Males sing a variably sweet warble, which sounds like “chipa-chipa-chipa, chee-chee-chee.“ Females rarely sing, but they have call notes that are sharp and metallic.
#2. White-winged Crossbill
- Loxia leucoptera
- Crisscrossed bill, which is used to separate pinecone scales to access the seeds.
- Males are rose-pink with black wings and tails. Look for two white lines of contrasting color across the middle of the wing.
- Females and young males are yellowish but with the same wing and tail pattern as the adult males.
White-winged Crossbills get their name from the shape of their bill! These crossbills evolved these unique beaks to open up pinecones so that they can eat the seeds inside.
Individual White-winged Crossbills can eat up to 3,000 conifer seeds each day. They also have a pocket in their throat that helps them store additional seeds—nothing like having a few seeds to go.
In fact, some people can locate crossbills by hearing them crunching while opening cones in the trees. You will find them in coniferous forests, typically in spruce trees. They do not prefer pine, hemlock, or douglas fir forests.
White-winged Crossbill Range Map
You can sometimes attract these crossbills to backyard feeders in the United States by offering hulled sunflower seeds.
White-winged Crossbills are also opportunistic breeders, which means if the female has enough food, she will breed. They are known to breed anytime in any of the 12 months of the year.
Both sexes sing a mixture of vigorous and scattered chirps, warbles, and rattles. Listen below!
#3. Cassia Crossbill
- Loxia sinesciuris
- Small but stocky with a notched tail. Its crisscrossed bill is thicker than other crossbills.
- Males have grayish-brown bodies that are dashed with fiery reds and orangish hues.
- Females are grayish-green overall with a tad of yellow on the belly.
Cassia Crossbills are unique as they are ONLY found in a small part of Idaho.
Unlike other crossbill species, they don’t migrate, choosing to stay put all year round in the same spot. However, their geographic isolation and small population make them vulnerable to extinction.
Cassia Range Map
Cassia Crossbills are closely related to the much more widespread Red Crossbill. In fact, these birds used to be considered the same species until it was realized the Cassia’s don’t interbreed, have thicker bills, and don’t leave Cassia County, Idaho.
They prefer to eat lodgepole pinecones. These rocky mountain lodgepole pinecones are tougher to open than other pinecones. Once they get the seed in their mouth, they take the shell off and eat that first, and then the seed. All this is done inside their mouth. This is one interesting talent they have.
Cassia Crossbills sing like other crossbills, but their songs are longer and have lower-pitched notes.
Do you need additional help identifying crossbills?
Try this field guide!
Which of these crossbills have you seen before in the United States?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from Birds of the World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!