My Birding Badge Has Been Revoked

If you are walking in the woods in winter and come across a section of trail freshly littered with tamarack cones…

…look up. Chances are there’s a flock of crossbills in the vicinity. Of course, if you’re me, you’ll have neglected to bring your binoculars along on your walk, and the Birdchick herself will tell you to hand in your birding badge.

For those not in the know, crossbills are very cool finches whose beaks are criss-crossed in a unique way that enables them to pry open cones to get at the seeds within, and they are especially fond of tamaracks. Oh well. Next time.

7 thoughts on “My Birding Badge Has Been Revoked”

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    An interesting thing with Crossbills is their escape movement behaviour and the fact that there are so many different subspecies within the genus. It is also a well known fact that 50% of Crossbill’s beaks cross to the left and 50% cross to the right.

    As ever, Rebecca, please keep the posts coming.

    Kind Regards

    Tony Powell

      1. The Crossbill genus as a whole, well at least our European ones have a subspecies split even within the UK. For example, the Scottish Crossbill is a distinct species and is only found in caledonian forests in Scotland. The escape movements mentioned, exist in Europe when cold weather and ice makes the birds irrupt to other countries. Lot of bird species undertake these movements in order to raise their chances of surviving.

        Best Wishes

        Tony Powell

  2. Crossbills had long been an elusive species for me. I tend to hang out in habitats that are mixed, but decidedly more deciduous. A few years ago I was hiking in an Atlantic maritime forest on the New Jersey shore when I spotted a bird that struck me as distinctly parrot-like in the way it was behaving. Consulting Sibley’s, I read the description of Crossbills as “clambers parrot-like over pine cones”. Eureka! Given the southerly location, I’m guessing that it was a Red Crossbill, and added it to my life list with an asterisk. There are a lot of asterisks on my life list :(

    1. I know what you mean about the asterisks. Luckily these weren’t my LIFE crossbills – I’d had very good looks at White-winged Crossbills in the past – but people here who I’ve pointed out these signs of tamarack foraging to have been dubious as to whether I really saw crossbills are not, insisting they haven’t seen them in this area in years. Honestly, flocks of largish winter finches foraging voraciously on tamarack cones, what else could they have been?

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