Sunday, March 1, 2009


I was up and outside early before sunrise again this chilly (6 degrees) March 1st morning. I wanted to get some video of all the Common Redpolls at my feeders to share with you, but when I went around to the front of the house, I saw White-Winged Crossbills in my spruce trees!! I have been waiting and hoping to see them all winter, so the redpoll video is going to be delayed until tomorrow's post.

I have been watching my pine-cone laden spruce trees for these birds since the beginning of February (ever since I heard they were being seen in Southeastern Minnesota). I listened to their call on my birdJam, just in case I would happen to hear it when I was outside. Their song sounds similar to the Common Redpolls, so I was wondering whether I would be able to distinguish it or not.

When I went out the front door to put some more food in the dish for my crows, I heard a different bird song and looked over at the big spruce tree near the driveway where I saw a pinkish-colored bird moving around at the top near the pinecones. "Could it be???" I said to myself. I dashed back into the house for bins and camera and sure, enough, there he was...... Gosh, what a handsome bird! Look at that long pointy beak working to extract the seeds from the pinecone!

Here are some more pictures. There are 2 male crossbills in this shot (look where the white arrows are pointing)
Here's another close-up. They were so busy flitting about from pine cone to pine cone, that I felt fortunate to get these pictures in a moment of stillness. (The -17 windchill blowing into my face wasn't helping either and I was wishing I had more put some warmer pants on over my pajama bottoms!)
But the sun was just coming up and the light was perfect and I couldn't tear myself away from this spectacle. In the picture below, you can just see a female at the far right side of the picture.
Here's a better look a the golden color of the female.
Every summer when I'm mowing the lawn and get too close to these spruces with their skin-piercingly sharp needles, I curse these trees, but today I was glad for them and their abundance of pine cones that attracted these beautiful little finches of the boreal forest......a life bird for me and my backyard!

Before my camera (and the rest of me) froze, I also managed to capture this short video. Watch out for flying pinecones!


Larry said...

Congratulations Ruthie! Right in your own yard-How excting is that?!
I looked for those buggers for two months before I finally was able to see them.-Awesome birds to watch!

Mama Pea said...

What beautiful little birds! We don't get them this far north . . . at least that I know of. Thanks for giving us a look at them.

You're going to catch pea-new-monia cavorting around outside in those frigid temps in your skivvies!

Anonymous said...

I have never seen crossbills in the wild, what a treat for me from you. Why do they throw the pine cones to the ground? Do they eat the seeds when the cones are on the ground? They sure move around fast. Fascinating little birds.

Lynne said...

That is so neat! Congratulations on the lifer and the wonderful pix and video. I would have stood in the cold for them too.

Kallen305 said...

You lucky duck Ruthie!!! Such beautiful little birds. I love the video!! Congrats on your lifer!

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary said...


This is my third try posting a comment. Blogger is eating them!!!!

I love this. Congrats!

I'm sending an e-mail.


Deb said...

Cool. I remember one winter/spring, 2003 maybe, when these birds were really thick in my trees and even in the yard. Until the Sax Zim Festival I hadn't seen one since then. Isn't it great to see something like that, right at home?

jan m said...

How exciting Ruthie! I've heard that they have been seen in my area, so I am always watching wherever I see pine cones, but so far no luck here.

Heather said...

Ruthie, that's awesome!!! They must be in heaven in that tree with all those cones. A good way to start off the month, I'd say.

Julie said...

How cool?!? Where are they usually in the winter and summer? I now I've never seen them before. They're beautiful birds.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Larry. Later this afternoon, one of those trees had almost no cones left on it. I wonder how long it will take them to get through all the trees in my yard and if they will then move on?

Hi Mama Pea,
I think it's more likely that you would see them in your neck of the woods than down here in southern MN as they are normally birds of the boreal forest.
(I had long johns on under my pajamas--it's OK for running around and filling bird feeders for 10 minutes or so, but I was too excited about these crossbills to go back in the house and get some warmer clothes on)

Hi Anonymous,
I've never seen them in the wild before either. I think they're pulling the pine cones off and trying to hold them with their feet, but sometimes they just can't hold on very well or maybe the pine cone falls off before they have a good grasp on it. I don't know if they go to the ground and eat them, so I'll have to check tomorrow and see if there are many intact pine cones on the ground.

Thanks Lynne. As a fellow birding "enthusiast," I knew you'd understand! :-)

Thanks Kallen. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Thanks for persevering Mary! Blogger has been acting strangely for me lately too.

Hi Deb,
It was very cool to see these birds in my backyard! Plus all the redpolls I've had this year have definitely made this long winter more pleasant for me.

Thanks Jan. Don't give up hope--I'm sure you'll see them yet if they're in your area.

Thanks Heather. I was sure excited too.

Hi Julie,
These crossbills are year-round residents in northern Canada and Alaska, but may move south into the northern tier of states in the US for winter--especially when food supplies (pinecones) are scarce in the northern boreal forests.

Gaelyn said...

Congrats on gettng a lifer. I can hardly believe how many cones on those spruce. All good captures, I like the third one best. What a beautiful bird.

Jaime said...

That is just so fantastic. What beautiful little birds. I'm certain I've never seen one around here (I'm not a very good looker though). I wonder if they hang around southern Ohio.

Susan Gets Native said...

Standing outside in -17 windchill in your PJ bottoms watching crossbills.
You be a birder, Girl.

Kelly said...

...loved the video and the photos of the white-winged crossbills! They were lifers for me this year also, but I only saw five (and they weren't in my yard). Congrats!!

Mary C said...

Very nice, Ruthie. What a lovely surprise on such a cold morning. Great job capturing them - I'm surprised your camera worked in that temperature. ;o)

troutbirder said...

Wow! You did good Ruthie

Jayne said...

How exciting Ruthie!!!! WOW! What a sight that must have been. Lucky you. :c)

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Oh my gosh Ruthie. What a great yard bird. They are making their way into Southern INdiana even. Just not as far south as we are. I think they are such a beautiful bird. Lucky you to have them in your garden.

Red said...

You sure had a sharp eye to spot those! They matched the color of the pinecones quite nicely. And to brave that cold? Wow, thanks doesn't sum it up at all! But thanks!

Dana and Daisy said...

gosh! Look at all those pinecones too!

dAwN said...

That is so very exciting...Glad you got to your camera in time.
A life bird in your own backyard! Awesum.

Marsha said...

How exciting! I wish the ones I saw last fall stayed. Do you think they are migrating north already?

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Gaelyn. It's funny about those spruces--most of them don't have any cones, but the ones that do are just loaded!

Hi Jaime,
I really had to look close to see them. I'm not sure if they've gotten down to Ohio this winter, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Hi Susan, you're right, no "might be" about it!

Hi Kelly,
I'm glad you got to see them--really pretty little birds!

Hi Mary C,
My camera kept flashing the battery at me and I'd have to stop and warm it up inside my coat. Finally I just got too cold and had to go inside--but it was worth it!

Thanks Troutbirder.

Thanks Jayne, it was pretty special!

Hi Lisa,
I hope you get a chance to see them--they're pretty neat birds and it's fun to watch them eating pinecone seeds!

Hi Red,
It was their movement in the trees that I was watching for--especially in that tree with all the pine cones.

I know Dana, every spring when I rake up all the pinecones I wish there was something else I could do with them, but they usually end up in our backyard firepit.

Thanks Dawn. Awesome for sure!

Hi Marsha,
I wondered the same thing too..... I don't know what their other food sources are and how soon in the spring they're available in the north country. I wonder if they don't end up leaving around the same time as the juncos?

mon@rch said...

not sure how I missed these pictures . . . I just love the White-winged Crossbill! BRAVO