Notes, birds, nature, meanderings.

Musings about birds, nature, and our meanderings on the Central Oregon Coast

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Story of My Red Crossbills, Part 2

June 21, 2012 - first day of summer.  And yes, my Red Crossbills were still here - almost seven weeks and I've had Crossbills almost every day.  Only now I realized that lately they've been appearing individually, rather than in pairs.  Males and females taking turns at the feeder - was it silly to think there might be a nest or two nearby? 

Male Red Crossbill - look at the interesting colors
Still curious about them, I fired off a question to the local Lincoln County birding list:
"Got home from work and there were four RED CROSSBILLS sitting on my very empty feeders looking at the house.  I walked out onto the deck, one flew off, but the other 3 stayed.  The seed is in a large container next to the feeders - I walked over, opened the bins, scooped some food (by now I'm less than 3' from the birds).  And still they sat.  Not willing to get my hand between a hungry crossbill and a scoop of seed, I looked at them and said "So, are you going to move?" and they flew. They were right back by the time I got back in the house.

"Doesn't this seem unusual?"
Several folks responded that they were observing the same behavior.  Hmmm, this is VERY interesting.  So once again I emailed the Oregon Birding list (OBOL), this time with a specific request for information:
"A number of us here on the Oregon coast are experiencing RED CROSSBILLS at our feeders this spring.  After asking around, it seems that a few of us are noticing these birds are extremely "tame", that is, they don't spook at all and remain at the feeders even if you approach within a few feet.

"One person reported (not this year, but previous years when the same phenom occurred) one landing on her head when she went out to refill feeders.

"Someone posted recently that these birds are probably Type 3 (if I remember correctly).  Does anyone know where these birds come from and why they might be so willing to let people within easy range of them?

"The ones we normally have here stay well away from people and are highly skittish (I have little experience with this but am told this is so by local experts)."
I got a few opinions, but perhaps most interesting was a return request -- could I record the sounds they made?  Well, maybe - could I figure out that setting on my camera?  After many failed attempts, I finally got it - here's my first YouTube video with audio.

Sonogram of my Red Crossbills' flight calls
The next day one of the birding experts sent me this sonogram - his deductions, Type-3 Red Crossbills.  Fascinating - but wait, someone else listened to the same recording and deduced the "new" Type-10.  I tried studying the comparisons in the link he sent, but I honestly can't tell.  I did one more recording, but still can't tell the difference (youtube video).

In the meantime, one of the female Red Crossbills smacked up against the deck glass and met her demise.  I offered her to the scientific community on OBOL for study, and someone from OSU took me up on the offer (he picked the bird up recently, and promised to let me know his results).

A birding photographer emailed me and asked if he could come by on July 4th and take pictures of the birds.  He spent 3 hours with my birds, snapping pictures as they came and went, enjoying the fact that he could stand on the deck with the birds just feet away.  As he observed them, he said, "There's a male feeding a youngster."

Young Red Crossbill

A youngster, as in a baby, as in maybe they really did nest nearby?!?  After he left, I watched and saw the baby with the dad close by.

How long have I had them while not noticing?  I knew my numbers had increased (had up to 18 trying to get at the feeders one morning), and had been wondering about all the variety in color and pattern. Were the ones with stripes the youngsters?
Immature Red Crossbill

More googling - Red Crossbills are nomadic (yes, I knew this) and often stop and nest wherever they find a food source.  They can have multiple broods each year, and the adults will continue to feed the youngsters as they move around!

So I continued observing, and over the next several days I counted 3 definite babies, and others that appeared to be immature (see above photo).  The other varying colors and patterns were apparently all different ages of Crossbills.  The males with yellow feathers still showing through the bright red, all the way to the babies with their bills barely crossing. 

Male Red Crossbill feeding baby

On July 10, 2012 I finally got a photo of a male feeding a baby -- he ate several seeds, then regurgitated them into the baby's mouth.

And I realized something else very interesting - I had never seen a female feeding the young.  Is this unusual?  I haven't googled it yet - I asked a few folks, but no one knew.

So today is Friday, July 13, 2012.  And I'm browsing online, glancing out occasionally to watch the Red Crossbills at the feeders.  Ten weeks.  They seem a bit more skittish lately, and I wonder how long they'll stay.


  1. Wonderful stories, Dawn! I learned a lot about crossbills from your research and observations. Thanks for sharing them!

  2. Yes, what Linda said- what you have shared this spring/summer has been so interesting! Great photos too.

  3. Thanks Linda & Jen! It's been a fascinating & wonderful experience! (I think my fav picture is the baby, although I also love the ones I got the first day :o)