Red Crossbill (NA)

@ Jay McGowan

Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra (Linnaeus 1758)

Appearance: Medium-sized finch red (males) to yellow (females) finch with distinctive mandibles curved and crossed at the tip.

Irruptions Winter 2020-21: Red Crossbills are currently fairly widespread in Central Ontario to southern Maritimes and northeastern states mainly feeding in areas of heavy white pine crop. Red Crossbills should shift southward some as the white pine crop is depleted. Don’t expect to see much in the way of any irruption from the west, but expect to continue to see some numbers of Type 10 and small numbers of types 1, 2 and 3 mixed in here and there. Types 2 and 4 a bit more common in the western Great Lakes States.

Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra minor
SE Canada and NE USA
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra percna
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra sitkensis
coastal S Alaska to coastal W USA
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra bendirei
inland SW Canada and inland NW USA
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra benti
C Rocky Mts. (wc USA)
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra grinnelli
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra stricklandi
SW USA to S Mexico
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra mesamericana
Guatemala and Belize to Nicaragua

Object of study: call types identifications, call recognition model, assortative mating, and distributions.

Known Flight Call types of North American Red Crossbills (Spectrograms prepared by Andrew Spencer):

Type 1 – Appalachian Crossbill (Young et al. 2011) — Medium-billed

Natural History: Is found primarily in the Appalachians from s. New York to Georgia and even Alabama; occasional in Adirondack Mts., NY, and central Massachusetts northward into New England, s. Ontario, Maritimes, and perhaps Great Lakes; rare to very rare in West. Appears to be more of a generalist than most call types but is most closely associated with Red Spruce and White Spruce, Eastern White Pine, and hard-coned pines such as Pitch, Red, Virginia, and Loblolly in east; in the West has used Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. Flight call is described as a hard, quick, attenuated chewt-chewt similar to the chip of a Kentucky Warbler; compare to the softer Type 2.

Type 1 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 1 see here:

Type 2 – Ponderosa Pine Crossbill (Benkman 2007) — Large-billed

Natural History: Most common in the Ponderosa Pine forests of the West, but can be found continentwide in U.S. and into very n. Mexico and parts of s. Canada. Moderately irruptive and can occur nearly anywhere, but occasionally in numbers to the Great Lakes and rarely even into the Plains states. Most efficient at feeding on Ponderosa Pine in the Intermontane West, but will use other hard pines as well, including Lodgepole and Jeffrey pines (West), Red, Jack, Pitch, Virginia and Table Mountain Pines (East). Uses spruces and soft-coned pines as well. Very eclectic in diet. Sounds similar to Type 1, but a husky, deeper and lower choowp-choowp or chew-chew; can recall Pygmy Nuthatch or Olive-sided Flycatcher’s pip-pip-pip. Western birds sound a bit more “ringing” or even squeaky in quality, as compared to eastern birds. Compare squeaky sounding birds to Type 3.

Type 2 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 2 see here:

Type 3 – Western Hemlock Crossbill (Benkman 2007) — Small-billed

Natural History: Primarily in the northern coastal areas of western North America, but  can be found in numbers to Great Lakes into northeast, Ontario and Maritimes every 2-5 years. Highly irruptive into the Great Lakes, Northeast, Ontario and likely Maritimes every 2-5 years in numbers. Most common in areas of Western Hemlock but uses Engelmann and Sitka spruce, and less often Douglas-fir and Blue Spruce in the West; in the East, most often uses Eastern Hemlock or White and Red spruces. A squeaky or scratchy tik-tik or kyip-kyip; highly distinctive.

Type 3 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 3 see here:

Type 4 — Douglas-fir Crossbill (Benkman 2007) — Medium-billed

Natural History: Most common in coastal variety of Douglas-fir; less often uses interior variety of Douglas-fir; also uses various spruces and red and white pines when it moves eastward. Occasionally irrupts to Intermontane West and Great Lakes, and rarely to Northeast. Flight call sounds like a bouncy plick-plick-plick or pwit-pwit-pwit; very distinctive, but compare to Type 10 and 6.

Type 4 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 4 see here:

Type 5 – Lodgepole Pine Crossbill (Benkman 2007) — Large-billed

Natural History: Western in U.S. and Canada; vagrant to the Great Lakes and Northeast. Occasionally irruptive in parts of the Intermontane West. Most common in Lodgepole Pine and Engelmann Spruce, less often uses Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce or white pines. Sound is like a springy or twangy clip-clip-clip or chit-chit-chit; quite distinctive and level sounding.

Type 5 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 5 see here:

Type 6 – Sierra Madre Crossbill (Benkman 2007) — Large-billed

Natural History: In the U.S. it occurs in se. Arizona and sw. New Mexico and museum specimens have been noted from Colorado and California. Occurs to southern Mexico and south to Guatemala and El Salvador. Some years perhaps more common in Arizona than others. Feeds on several hard-coned pine species of Mexico, especially Apache Pine. Flight call sounds like a cheep-cheep, ringing, and tonal. Compare with type 4.

Type 6 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 6 see here:

Presumed Type 7 – Enigmatic Crossbill — Medium-billed to large-billed (Young 2012)

Known range: The 3rd and 4th recordings below are provisional, and may in fact be the rather common “old northeastern subspecies”.  Type 7 appears to still be a western call types that occurs in interior areas of the Pacific Northwest U.S. and s. British Columbia. As stated above, many recordings from the Great Lakes to the Northeast and southern Maritimes, some even going back to 1962, match the spectrograms and sounds of the “old northeastern subspecies”..  If “eastern” Type 10 is the “old northeastern subspecies”, it likely wanders from the southern boreal through the Great Lakes into the Northeast and southern Maritimes; also sporadically in the Pacific Northwest to southern Alaska. Could be a bit more of a generalist that uses spruces in boreal, Red, Jack, and Pitch pine in the East most commonly in March-May when food is at its most limited. Also uses White Pine and various spruces in the Great Lakes and Northeast. Sounds like a husky jit-jit-jit somewhat intermediate in sound between Type 2 and 10, but closer sounding to Type 10.

Type 7 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

Type 8 – Newfoundland Crossbill (Griscom 1937) — Large-billed

Natural History: Listed as Threatened by the Canadian Wildlife Service. Thought to be resident to island of Newfoundland, but at least rarely moves to Anticosti Island, Quebec; perhaps moves to Magdalen Islands, Quebec, or other nearby Maritime coasts as well. Likely associates with spruces and pines. Flight call sounds like Cheet-cheet, ringing and complexly modulated.

Type 8 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 8 see here:

Type 10 – Sitka Spruce Crossbill (Irwin 2010) – Small-billed to medium-billed

Natural History: Primarily found along coastal Pacific Northwest of northern California to central Oregon but might “irrupt” eastward occasionally into the Great Lakes, Northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. It’s hard to know how common it is in the east with the uncertainty of many birds in the east spectrographically looking and sounding like Type 7. Most closely associated with Sitka Spruce in the Pacific Northwest. Flight call sounds like a very dry thin whit-whit; recalls Empidonax flycatcher whit note; very distinctive. Compare with Types 4 and 7.

Type 10 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 10 see here:

Type 11 – Central American Crossbill (Young and Spahr 2017) — Large-billed

Natural History: Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, and El Salvador (recordings needed); appears to most closely associated with hard-coned pine species of Central America, most specifically Mexican Yellow Pine Pinus oocarpa (pers. comm. John van Dort). Gives a flat, polyphonic flight call that can sound similar to the Cassia Crossbill or some lower-frequency variants of Type 5.  It could be represented by drip-drip-drip, and sounds very different than the slightly ringing quality heard in the Type 6 birds with which it shares habitat.

Type 11 Range Map (Ken McEnaney)

For more on Type 11 see here:


FiRN Needs: Recordings from the entire distribution area would be appreciated.


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