In nearly 40 years, Leonard only saw a red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) on our property one time. That was until last week, when a solitary male crossbill was in the hybrid poplars next to the house along Modoc County Road 87 near Lookout CA.
Red crossbills are almost exclusively birds of coniferous forests. Crossbills have thick curved bills with crossed tips that are adapted specifically for prying between the scales of conifer cones to extract the seeds. Conifer seeds comprise over 90% of a red crossbill’s diet. The nearest conifers are probably over a mile from out house, definitely not crossbill habitat. Red crossbills can also glean food by spreading their jaws and using their tongues. They use this method to occasionally take invertebrates such as spiders, caterpillars and insect larvae. That is exactly what this red crossbill was doing as he industriously appeared to be eating something from the stump of a cut branch.
Like other finches, red crossbills are gregarious and form flocks outside of the breeding season. Leonard and I were surprised to find a single crossbill. An irruptive species, red crossbills are dependent upon local pinecone crops and move about searching for food. Perhaps this red crossbill was a “scout” who decided to enjoy an insect snack while looking for a supply of pinecones for the flock.
No matter what the reason for this infrequent visitor, it was interesting to watch the red crossbill as it enjoyed its meal.