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White-winged and Red Crossbill Finches, Finches with Strange Bills

Updated on June 10, 2016

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For the meanings of bird parts which you do not understand in this Hub, see my bird glossary.

If what you want is not in there, please let me know so that I can add it into the glossary.

Other information.

I almost forgot to mention that there are up to 10 types of Red Crossbills. Every one of them roams about carelessly until it finds the food that it wants, frequently meeting up with other types. Most are not accurately identified when studied and should be described only by cautious audible flight sound. Typical variances in size, range and food alternatives supply hints which may be helpful in recognition.

Size of bills:

Type 3 has the smallest bill.

Types 1, 2, and 4 are all basically slender-billed.

We can place type 7 between types 1 and 8, but slightly closer to type 8.

Types 8 and 9 we will say are stout-billed.

Type 5 we can place between types 5 and 2 (since type 2 is between types 9 and 6), but slightly lower and closer to type 9.

Type 6 has the largest bill.

The larger, stouter bills extract seeds from larger, harder cones (pines), smaller bills from smaller, softer cones (spruce, fir, hemlock).

Type 1 - 4 is continent-wide; types 5 & 7 are only in the west; type 6 is only in the extreme southwest; type 8 is only in Newfoundland; and type 9 is only from southern Idaho.

Crossbills when they are in groups can be named 'crookedness' or 'warp'.

Size:

The average size of the bird can be from 5.5" to 6.25" long.

Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill -  Male
Red Crossbill - Male | Source
Red Crossbill - female
Red Crossbill - female | Source
Red Crossbill - Immature
Red Crossbill - Immature | Source

We will begin with the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra).

Male: The coloring of the male can vary anywhere in the area from a sort of dull red to a brick red color. Its wings and tail may look close between a dark brown to a light black with no white wing bars.

Female: The female has a sort of mixed coloring. It seems to be generally grayish and olive but can have a yellow or orange tint on occasion.

The female crossbill has a more massive bill and it is considerably bigger than the goldfinch, it also has a yellow rump like some Purple Finches but the crossbill lacks the heavily streaked breast of the P. Finches.

Juvenile: The juvenile is a bit more of an orange-red and streaked but has no whitish wing bars.

Range map

Red Crossbill
Red Crossbill | Source

The habitat is widespread.

Both birds like the coniferous woods the crossbill is considered a winter bird.

Red: This bird uses the pines, I heard it is a good hotel. :)

Breeds come from southern Alaska, Manitoba, Quebec, Newfoundland and in West to northern Nicaragua. In the eastern United States to Wisconsin and North Carolina mountains.

It winters irregularly south to the Gulf Coast. Also in Eurasia over in Europe.

It is a year-round resident in lower Canada (near the U.S. border), some of the Pacific coast and some states just West of the mid-West. It winters in parts of lower California, parts of the mid-West, and around the lower Great Lakes to the Atlantic coast.

In the winter these birds visit randomly, being present in great amounts, but then they may not be present again for many years. Such winter flocks frequently journey a good ways. A great amount of the birds which come to New England coming all of the way from the Rocky Mountains.


Size:

The size of the White-winged Crossbill can average from between 5.5" - 6.25" in length. Generally the same size as the Red Crossbill, except that the White-winged has a longer tail, a smaller head and a thinner bill than the Red Crossbill.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill male
White-winged Crossbill male | Source
White-winged Crossbill female
White-winged Crossbill female | Source

Next we will describe the White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera).

Male: The male looks almost the same as the R. Crossbill, other than the White-winged is more of a pinkish-red. Even though it has basically the same color wings there are two white wing bars on the sides and two or three on the back. The bill is also thinner than the Red.

Female: Again it is grayish with olive tinges, usually on the head and wings, with the same white markings on the wings and back as the male. In addition to that, there is some streaking on the back, breast and flanks.

Juvenile: The juvenile starts off as a brownish-yellow with stripes all over its body. It has a bright rump and fine streaking on the flanks. It has the white stripes on the wings and back. In the 1st year, the male turns a sort of yellow with a partial red tint mixed in; black wings and the stripes on wings and back.

Range map

White-winged Crossbill (range map) (See capsule 'Next is White-winged...')
White-winged Crossbill (range map) (See capsule 'Next is White-winged...') | Source

Conifer cones and seeds.

 Autumn conifer seeds (See capsule 'Where this one lives...')
Autumn conifer seeds (See capsule 'Where this one lives...') | Source

Where this one lives is a little different.

White-winged: They usually prefer pines and larches (tamaracks).

The White-winged breeds from Alaska and northern Quebec, south to Newfoundland and British Columbia. In the winter they go south to the Carolina's and Oregon. It also shows up into Eurasia like the Red.

They spend year-round in Canada. And then some winter in central to northern U.S. states, while some stay a little bit in southern Canada.

Their travelings through winter in Canada keeps them strongly relying upon conifer seeds. When the seeds are plentiful then everything is fine. When the inventory of seeds is low they come farther south, often in reserved flocks. They have even been seen in the West Indies.

From now on there is no distinction between the two.

Unless I note a difference, everything the birds do from here on should be alike. If there is a difference, I will note the bird.

Red Crossbill eggs

Source

White-winged Crossbill egg

Source

Are you lucky?

Have you seen one of these crossbills nests?

See results

Their nesting is basically the same.

Eggs:

Red - Their eggs are a whitish color and they have reddish streaks and splotches entirely at the bulkier end. When the birds hatch, they cannot do without the assist of their parents and they also barely have any feathers.




White-winged - It can vary by one or two eggs between the two birds but it averages about 2-5 eggs of a greenish-white to a bluish-white coloring, with black or brown spots, usually near the large end. When the birds come out of the eggs they are naked and hairless.







Nests:

Red -

They build an open cup out of twigs, which is lined with grasses, conifer needles, lichen, fibers from plants, shreds of bark, hair, and feathers. Using thick cover of a conifer tree which is well concealed by the branches.

White-winged -

They also build their cups out of twigs, stem from grass, lichens or bark from birch trees; then they line it using more shreds from bark, lichen, rootlets, cocoons and hair. Also using the branches of a conifer tree to conceal it well.

After making the nest, there is the following difference:

R. Crossbill:

Incubation - This period usually lasts for 12 to 18 days;

Fledging Period - This usually lasts 15 to 20 days before the birds leave the nest;

Brood - They may breed practically anywhere and practically anytime of the year. While they have an adequate food supply.

White-winged:

Incubation - It usually lasts for the same time;

Fledging Period - In this one it is unknown at this time;

Brood - Two attempts are made if they can find a second supply of food.

When the nestlings are born, their bills look ordinary. This is because as the birds grow and mature, so will their crossed tips.

Red Crossbill feeding

Red Crossbill feeding on one or more cones in a tree.
Red Crossbill feeding on one or more cones in a tree. | Source

The birds and their diets.

The two of them remove conifer seeds by pressurizing the sections of cones - just enough - to make them part so that they can lift out the seeds via their tongue. These birds, together with the cone seeds, also eat other seeds, road salt - which again and again causes transit mishap - plus they eat various types of insects. Every now and then they are seen at bird feeders.

Red - They grasp pine cones with one foot, and use their distinct bills to loudly pull out the seeds. They also eat some buds and fruit.

White-winged - They eat conifer seeds, especially the ones which are from the spruce and tamarack trees.

Crossbills at bird bath singing.

Voice: Even with their different beak, they have a sweet song.

Both of their songs are a rapid warble. Crossbills, while eating in flocks, express low twitters to one another. Sitting at the top of a tree, while courting the mate, the male makes sounds like flutes and warbles. Another option is singing while he is circling in the air above the female.

Red: Their songs are usually in an order of brief, firm or metallic sounds, a few may be in a droning sound, including various call notes scattered among them.

White-winged: It has a voice like the Red, but more feathery-like. It has songs basically in an order of agitated, clattering, almost lifeless warbles on varied tones, as jrrr-jrrr-jrrr-treeeee-kerrrrr-treeeeee-krrr sounds. Its song is an array of mellow, whistle-like warbles and trills sounds.

Conservation Status of the Red Crossbill

The Red Crossbill has a large range. Did you know that it is natural in North and Central America besides Europe and Asia, it favors an environment with natural forests, but it can live in urban areas.

At the present time it does not show signs of lessening and the current status is Least Concern.


Conservation status of the White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill - This is another bird in the Least Concern category thankfully. There is no indication of any type of its count dropping. In fact it may even be showing a rise in some areas.

Reward - bird sighting


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    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I hope to see some crossbills, and will keep a watch out of them. nice work!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
      Author

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      Thank you for reading about the birds and thank you for your comment. I hope that you see some crossbills too. I wish that I had seen them back when I saw the other finches, but I have only seen them in books so far. Perhaps I will see them now that I am in a different state.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Went out looking for them last fall but so far we have not seen one. My husband is working on his bird count and we were hoping. Seeing a crossbill, he would have hit his 300 mark.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image
      Author

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      Dolores

      I hope that you, or your husband, see a crossbill. :-) Good luck.

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