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 Crossbill - Fact File
Crossbill
Loxia curvirostra
Resident in suitable habitat in England, Scotland and Wales but numbers vary considerably with irruptions of continental birds in some years.
Mature coniferous forests and plantations, although migrant birds may be seen in untypical habitat.
Plump build with unique crossed mandibles. Male brick red and female green-grey. Junenile heavily straked with buffy wing-bars.
16.5 cm
 

Crossbill

Reports of often considerable numbers of immigrant crossbills continue to make the birding headlines. Among the most impressive assemblies locally was a flock of over 200 at Sandringham and 130 in the Brecks at Lynford in 1990.

The Sandringham birds included two-barred crossbills which have been detected by keen-eyed observers.

Crossbills are thirsty birds-doubtless on account of their diet of pine seeds-and these rarities have been watched drinking at carpark puddles.

The two-barred crossbill's home is the forest belt of north-east Europe and north-central Asia. Hundreds reached Scandinavia in autumn 1985, but in this country it remains a rarity. A long-staying example once lingered in Wells pinewoods over two months.

In parts of their range, crossbills breed in every month of the year, their ability to withstand a cold climate enabling them to breed whenever there is a good cone crop. In Breckland, eggs have been found and young have been known to leave nests before mid-January. Thus on occasions eggs must have been laid a week before Christmas.

End-of-year nesting may well include young breeding in the same year in which they were born.

During the past 20 years there has been only one previous local large-scale arrival. It will be most interesting to record the numbers of crossbills remaining to breed in the Breckland Forest rather than returning to the dark and distant fir forests of Scandinavia. It is only in the years immediately following a large invasion that the birds nest here in any quantity.

Between the two world wars a succession of ruthless and highly-skilled egg-collectors patrolled the roads in the vicinity of Thetford and Brandon periodically pointing out crossbills' nests at the ends of the most slender branches and excitedly instructing more agile companions to examine them. One year two such collectors found no less that 20 nests almost all in single or double roadside pine rows.

It is always exciting to watch a flock of crossbills. The crimson or brick-red parrot-like cocks may sing and chatter all moving like mice through branch and foliage. When lost to view all you will hear are cones tumbling from branch to branch as seed cases spiral in the sun.

.By Michael J Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.