Red Crossbill

Loxia curvirostra
Red Crossbill specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (5 ¼ -6 ½ inches) finch, the Red Crossbill is most easily identified by its black wings, short black tail, and oddly-shaped bill. Males’ bodies may be bright red, yellow, or a mixture of both, although the cause of this variation in color is more related to the timing of the individual’s yearly molt than to heredity. Female Red Crossbills are streaky brownish-yellow on the back, head, and face. The Red Crossbill inhabits a large area of the Northern Hemisphere. In the New World, this species breeds across southern Alaska, southern Canada and the northern United States. This species’ range extends south at higher elevations as far as North Carolina in the east and southern Arizona in the west. Other populations occur in the mountains of Mexico and Central America south to Nicaragua. In the Old World, this species breeds across northern portions of Eurasia, with isolated populations at higher elevations as far south as North Africa, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Red Crossbills wander widely during winter, and in some years northern populations may move south in large numbers as far as the southeastern U.S. and southern Europe. Red Crossbills inhabit evergreen forests with trees that produce cones. This species almost exclusively eats seeds taken from these cones, and its strangely-shaped bill is specially adapted to cracking open cones to extract seeds. This species eats seeds from a number of kinds of evergreen trees, including pines, spruces, firs, and hemlocks. In fact, different populations of Red Crossbills often prefer one evergreen tree family over the others, having bills particularly suited to cracking cones produced by that kind of tree. In suitable habitat, Red Crossbills may be observed feeding on cone seeds while perched on branches or hanging upside-down from the cone. In more built-up areas, this species may also visit bird feeders in the company of other finch species. Red Crossbills are most active during the day.

DC Information

Irregular winter visitor from October to June; generally rare, common in certain years. Found in stands of conifers. The female is greenish; the male, red. The tips of the bill are crossed: an adaptation for extracting seeds from pine cones.

Specimen Information

The bird on the left is a female.  A male is in the center and a juvenile is on the right.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Loxia curvirostra

Sound from xeno-canto. XC67010 Loxia curvirostra (Red Crossbill)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC67011 Loxia curvirostra (Red Crossbill)