Common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

loading
Male common crossbill
loading
Loading more images and videos...

Common crossbill fact file

Common crossbill description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyFringillidae
GenusLoxia

Although it is not a bird that many people see very often, the common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) is quite common in the UK and has probably increased in numbers as a result of the planting of pine forests. It is a very distinctive bird, sometimes called the ‘parrot of the northern woods’. As its name suggests, the tips of the bill cross, enabling the birds to extract seeds from pine cones, their principle food, and giving the birds a rather parrot-like appearance. Males and females are noticeably different in colouration. Males are a rich brick-red on the head, back, rump, and belly. The wings and tail are a dark brownish-grey on both sexes, but females are grey-green where the males are red. The head of the bird is disproportionately large, with a thick ‘bull’ neck, and the tail is forked. Common crossbills call frequently whilst moving about in the trees, making a high-pitched, metallic sound like ‘glipp-glipp’. The song is a series of trills and twitters.

There is an old belief that the common crossbill acquired its peculiar beak as a result of trying to remove the nails from the hands and feet of Christ when he was on the cross. This incident also accounted for the male bird’s red breast, a story which is also associated with other red-breasted birds such as the robin and goldfinch.

Size
Length: 15 - 17cm
Top

Common crossbill biology

Common crossbills have one of the most protracted breeding seasons of any British bird. It can begin as early as January and, in parts of their range, they have been recorded breeding in every month of the year. Up to four greenish-white, lightly-blotched eggs are laid, and incubated solely by the female. After 13 days, the eggs hatch and both parents take part in feeding duties. Like many other seed-eating birds, the chicks are fed on insects initially, as these are highly nutritious.

Top

Common crossbill range

Common crossbills range across much of Europe and northern Asia, as far south as the North African Barbary Coast. In the UK, they are widely distributed but found in greater numbers around the extensive man-made pine forests such as Thetford Chase in East Anglia’s Breckland, Dalby Forest in Yorkshire, Grizedale Forest in Cumbria, Keilder Forest in Northumberland and Clocaenog Forest in Clwyd. Periodically, the UK population is boosted by ‘invasions’ of birds from northern Europe, possibly due to the failure of spruce cones. In Scotland, the common crossbill is replaced by the Scottish crossbill, a bird intermediate between the common and the parrot crossbill of northern Scandinavia.

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
Top

Common crossbill habitat

Common crossbills occur in conifer woodland, showing a preference for spruce.

Top

Common crossbill status

The common crossbill is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Protected in the UK under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

Top

Common crossbill threats

The UK population of common crossbills is believed to have increased considerably in recent years through large-scale afforestation in both lowland and upland areas. During the 1930s, the activities of a hard-core group of egg collectors in the birds’ Breckland stronghold gave cause for concern. Today’s stringent legal protection and the increase in the crossbill’s populations mean that, at the present time, the birds are not considered to be threatened. However, the Scottish crossbill is listed on the IUCN’s Red List as a bird of high conservation concern.

Top

Common crossbill conservation

The common crossbill is recorded as a Schedule 1 bird on the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended), along with all species of crossbill on the UK list.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Top

Find out more

For further information on the common crossbill:

For learn more about British birds:

 For more information on the common crossbill and other bird species:

Top

Authentication

Information supplied by English Nature.

http://www.english-nature.org.uk

Top

Glossary

Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Top

References

  1.  IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
X
Close

Image credit

Male common crossbill  
Male common crossbill

© David Tipling / www.davidtipling.com

David Tipling Photo Library
Quietways
9 Eccles Road
Holt
Norfolk
NR25 6HJ
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1263 711496
dt@windrushphotos.demon.co.uk
http://www.davidtipling.com

X
Close

Link to this photo

ARKive species - Common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) Embed this ARKive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to ARKive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about

X
Close

MyARKive

MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.

X
Close

Listen to the Common crossbill

Male common crossbill
Adobe Flash is required to play this recording

Common crossbill recordings by Gregory F. Budney

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Macaulay Library
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439
Email: macaulaylibrary@cornell.edu
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu/MacaulayLibrary

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!

Blog