What kinds of crossbills can you find in Utah?
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 two types of crossbills that are found in Utah:
#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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlngDUs4PyY
#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 Utah 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!
Do you need additional help identifying crossbills?
Try this field guide!
Which of these crossbills have you seen before in Utah?
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!