Monday, January 26, 2009

White-winged Crossbills!

They're Heeeeerrrrreeee!!!! (Think "Poltergeist"and that creepy little girl...)

Oh, yeah, baby! I have been waiting for these guys for quite a while. Ron Pittaway puts a finch report out every fall that predicts which birds will migrate based on cone crops and observations. There were reports of White-wing Crossbill sightings up north in Indiana. Then, reports of them in Columbus, Ohio, which is directly east of Indianapolis. I knew they would have to show up in Indy soon. I saw a flock in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio the weekend after New Years. Next, Kirk Roth found a lone male on January 3rd at Eagle Creek Park. Most likely a scout, checking out the food situation. Don Gorney had 425 around the Ft. Wayne area the 18th. Finally, on Wednesday, January 21, Mary Lou Stark found a flock of 12 White-winged Crossbills near the Ornithology Center at Eagle Creek Park. Chad Williams found 40 the following day. They have been putting on nice shows ever since. (All the crossbill photos are from Kevin Carlsen who is working dilligently on the new up and coming Eagle Creek Ornithology Center. More on that later in the post.)

So why are they here? No, it has nothing to do with ancient burial grounds. The spruce cone crop up north in Cananda is not up to snuff. With not enough food for all the birds to survive, flocks will wander farther south to partake of the bounty in our neck of the woods.

Above is a female crossbill. Females have greenish-yellow plumage with white wingbars. What fascinates me most about crossbills is their crazy beak. With a beak twisted and slightly askew, crossbills look like a science project gone a little awry. I have taken the photo above and cropped it so you can see a closeup of the beak below.

As you can see on this female White-winged Crossbill, the upper and lower mandibles criss-cross. This makes the perfect tool for prying open seed cones. Interestingly, some birds are lefties and some are righties. There is a blog post about it here.

Here is a nice capture of the male. Nice red color with black wings and the bold white wingbars that cinch the ID.

So what are these White-winged Crossbilss feeding upon? Eastern Hemlock cones. Their beaks are perfectly adapted for getting into the cones and extracting the seeds. I have heard that they are not too tasty for humans, but crossbills love 'em! Look at this happy guy carrying his prize.

And here are the tasty nuggets found inside each cone. Tiny little seeds that the crossbills crave. They have been witnessed feeding on spruce and pine cones, as well, and I have read they also enjoy sweet gum fruit. The seed photo above was stolen from Jim McCormac's blog. He also has a few good posts on crossbills, here and here.

Special thanks to Kevin Carlsen for letting me use some of his photos. If you are in the area of Eagle Creek and like building objects or painting and creating displays, he can use volunteers at the Ornithology Center, due to open sometime this year. The number is 327-BIRD(2473).


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