Tuesday 21 May
Common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Common crossbill fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Common crossbill description
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.
- Length: 15 - 17cm
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.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).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.Top
Find out more
For further information on the common crossbill:
BBC Wildlife Finder:
For learn more about British birds:
For more information on the common crossbill and other bird species:
Information supplied by English Nature.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.
Listen to the Common crossbill
Common crossbill recordings by Gregory F. Budney
© Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439