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A Crossbill's Beak Does the Job

The right tool for the work at hand!
© Gregg Thompson View Large

A close look at this Red Crossbill reveals a curious adaptation. The long tips of the upper and lower bill don't meet, but instead cross over each other. The bills of young birds are not crossed at hatching, but cross as they grow. The Red Crossbill bites between the scales of a cone and pries them apart by opening its bill, then dislodges the seed with its tongue. Be sure to watch the video!

Full Transcript

A Crossbill’s Beak Does the Job

Adapted from a script by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote.

[Call of a Red Crossbill]

We’re hearing the call of a Red Crossbill. Crossbills travel in a small flock in search of seeds from the cones of pines, spruces, and firs. How they obtain those seeds involves a curious adaptation of their bills.
[Call of a small flock of Red Crossbills]

First, cross your fingers, like one does for good luck. Now, just like your finger tips, the long tips of the Crossbill’s upper and lower bill don’t meet, but instead cross over each other. [Call of the Red Crossbill]

To feed, the bird first detaches a cone from a conifer and holds that cone parallel to the branch with its feet. The bird then bites between the scales of the cone and pries them apart by opening its carefully crafted bill. Holding the scales apart, the bird then dislodges the seed with its tongue.

Red Crossbills can be seen searching for cones on the tops of the trees, climbing around using their feet and bills, in the manner of parrots. [Call of the Red Crossbill]

Learn more about crossbills, at our website, Writers for BirdNote include Frances Wood, Ellen Blackstone, Todd Peterson, and Bob Sundstrom. Our producer is John Kessler. Executive producer is Chris Peterson. I’m Michael Stein.


Call of the Red Crossbill provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller
Ambient recorded by CP June 06G5
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

© 2015 Tune In to     January 2015     Narrator: Michael Stein

ID# RECR-01b-2009-07-12-MS       (old: 072705RECRKPLU)

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