Posted on January 23, 2011 under General

By Co-owner and Guide Michael Wald

White-winged Crossbill in Alaska“What are all those birds?” my 4-year old, nature-geek son asks me as a small noisy cloud of birds descends and lands in the top of a Sitka Spruce. From the trilled call we can tell they are White-winged Crossbills. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time birding lately, and am getting excited for our birding trip on the Kugururok in June, but honestly I didn’t have much to tell my boy about them other than their name. So I came home and refreshed my memory on crossbills.

As you may expect, the end of their bills do indeed cross and they use this unusual bill for prying open conifer cones. Once they pry open the cone bracts, they extract the seed with their tongue and can eat an astonishing 3,000 seeds in a day. With this super efficient technique crossbills can thrive even during the deep cold of Alaska’s winter. Not only do they not fly south in search of food like so many other birds but they have also been known to breed in mid-winter when they encounter a bumper crop of seeds. Read more about these improbable boreal birds at Cornell’s excellent birding website.