Saturday, 26 December 2015

Crossbill - Countdown - 9 Days to Go!

January can be a good time to see Crossbills. They time their breeding to coincide with the concentration of seeds in pine cones. Large conifer plantations can be good places to try and look for Crossbills. However, some years there are lots of seeds in pine cones, and in other years there is a famine, and numbers of Crossbills fluctuate in consequence. I have no idea of the situation this year, but I remain hopeful that we will find Crossbills in 2016. 
Crossbill (c) 2015 Vince Cowell
Breeding in January would seem to be a perilous gamble, but it seems to work fairly well. The BBC Tweet of the Day programme on the Crossbill mentioned that outside Moscow the temperature was something like -35 degrees centigrade, but inside the nest it was +35!

The extraordinary beak of the Crossbill has evolved to winkle out the seeds from pine cones. It is a very dry foodstuff, so if you do know a haunt of Crossbills it's worth keeping an eye on any nearby freshwater puddles or pools, as they often need to take a drink. Crossbills are large finches, bigger than Chaffinches and Bullfinches, but smaller than Hawfinches. Females are predominantly green in colour, and some males may be greenish too, but mature males are often bright red in colour. 
Singing Greenish male Crossbill
Crossbills spend a lot of time at the top of conifers extracting the seeds from the cones, so can be quite hard to see. The secret is to listen out for their distinctive pinging nasal flight calls, and when you spot them in flight follow them with a pair of binoculars to see where they land. As long as they haven't disappeared in the depths of the wood you should be able to observe them at work at the top of the tree. 
Male Crossbill
I've no idea if we'll be lucky enough to find them in 2016, but I'll be listening out for them, and will bring them to everyone's attention if we do hear their distinctive call. 
Record shot of crossbill in flight

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