The crossbill is a large finch of conifer woodlands; so-named for its bizarre cross-tipped bill, which it uses skilfully to prise out and eat the seeds from pine cones. They have distinctive crossed bills and forked tails; males are brick-red, females olive-green with a yellow rump. Two similar species include the parrot crossbill which is slightly larger with a heavier bill, and the Scottish crossbill which is endemic to Scots Pine woods in Scotland and has a slightly smaller bill.
Crossbills are difficult to spot as they spend most of their time at the top of pine trees. The crossbill feeds by flying from cone to cone, and can most often be seen in large flocks near the treetops, although it regularly comes down to pools to drink. It is resident all year-round, but some years are ‘irruption’ years when it becomes widespread and numerous as it is joined by Continental birds looking for food and which may stay to breed. Crossbills nest in conifer trees, constructing small cups out of twigs and moss, and lining them with hair.
Average Lifespan: 2 years
Widespread in conifer forests.
When to see
January – December
- Crossbills nest very early in the year, hatching their chicks in February and March to take advantage of the new crop of pine cones. They have even been known to breed all year-round when there are good cone crops.