Of course, this title is presented with tongue firmly planted in cheek. They, or at least the males, are red, and the bills are crossed. These little finches (both Red and White-winged Crossbills) have evolved the only crossed bills of any North American bird. This arrangement of the mandibles is highly suited to prying open pine cone scales in order to remove the fatty, pine nuts within. The Maclay Flat area, near Missoula, MT, has been absolutely loaded with Red Crossbills this winter. They can seen flying in the typical bounding finch flight pattern between the treetops. They rarely seem to come down to our inferior level.
The most unique fact about the Red Crossbill is that the “species” may actually be comprised of up to 9 cryptic species. These “types” are divided by variances in the call notes and the morphology of the bill. These differences in bill size and shape seem to be related to the dominant type of conifer utilized as a food source. Types 2 through 5 and 7 have been found in Montana.
- Type 2 – ponderosa pine
- Type 3 – western hemlock
- Type 4 – Douglas-fir
- Type 5 – lodgepole pine
- Type 7 – seems to be a generalist