Red Crossbills are one of the great gypsies of the bird world, coming and going in response to food availability. These nomads scour Rocky Mountain forests for pine cones, and when an abundant supply is discovered, they might breed, regardless of the season. By observing conifer cone crops, an attentive naturalist can predict with some accuracy whether crossbills will appear during the upcoming season. There are few other birds in the Rockies as tied to a single food source as the crossbills. Apart from pine forests, try searching out Red Crossbills near sources of mineralized water, to which they will descend from the trees for a drink. The scientific name curvirostra is Latin for 'curve-billed.'
I.D.: General: crossed bill tips. Male: dull orange-red to brick red plumage; dark wings and tail; always has color on the throat. Female: olive-gray to dusky yellow plumage; plain, dark wings. Immature: streaked underparts; otherwise resembles female.
Size: L 51/2-61/2 in. (14-17 cm).
Range: fairly common, local year-round resident throughout the Rockies; populations fluctuate considerably from year to year.
Habitat: coniferous forests, especially ponderosa and lodgepole pine, but also spruce-fir, from the foothills to the subalpine.
Nesting: on an outer branch in a conifer; cup nest is loosely woven with twigs, grass, moss, fur and bark strips; female incubates 3-4 eggs for 12-18 days; can breed any time of the year.
Feeding: prefers conifer seeds (especially pine); also eats buds, deciduous tree seeds and occasionally insects; often licks road salt or minerals in soil; occasionally visits feeders.
Voice: distinctive call note: jip-jip; song is a varied warble (similar to other finches).
Similar Species: White-winged Crossbill: 2 broad, white wing bars. Pine Siskin: similar to immature Red Crossbill, but lacks the crossed bill and is smaller.