Taking a close look at the red crossbill

  • <p>JAMES HIRTLE PHOTO</p><p>A red crossbill found in East LaHave.</p>
  • <p>JAMES HIRTLE PHOTO</p><p>A Savannah sparrow found at Sand Dollar Beach.</p>

On July 21, as I was pulling out of a driveway in East LaHave, I noticed a few birds on the ground beside the car. They were red crossbills and there seems to be quite a few of them around now.

They can be found in many places such as Alaska, east to Newfoundland, south in the west to Baja California and Nicaragua; east to Wisconsin, Tennessee and North Carolina. They winter to Florida, the Gulf coast and they also reside in Europe, Russia, Siberia and in Africa and India. They are an irruptive species, so very plentiful in some years and hard to find in other years. They do nest in Nova Scotia.

The red crossbill is 13.75 to 16.25 cm long with a wingspread of 25 to 26.9 cm. The male in breeding plumage is brick red, redder on the rump with dusky wings and a dark tail. Slender mandibles are crossed like shears, with the slender point of the upper one curving down and the point of the lower mandible curving up. The female is dusky buff-yellow and has dark wings, a dusky tail, and a yellowish rump.

The red crossbill extracts seeds from the cones of conifers, using the bill to force and hold apart the cone scales, while the tongue lifts seeds out. They eat seeds of pines, firs, spruces, hemlock, larch, birches, alders, willows, poplars, elms and maples plus the tender green buds of spruces. They also eat caterpillars, aphids, beetles, ants and other insects. They are attracted to salt.

After many disappointing trips to a lot of places, I was finally able to come across some Nelson's sparrows. I had at least eight of them at Sand Dollar Beach/Conrad's Island in Rose Bay. This was on July 24. I did a shorebird survey there on that day and had 303 short-billed dowitchers, 50 sanderlings, 32 semi-palmated sandpipers, seven willets, three semi-palmated plovers, one least sandpiper, four greater yellowlegs, 11 lesser yellowlegs and one stilt sandpiper.

Steve Shewchuk of Rose Bay reported that a pair of chickadees had just completed their third successful nesting for this year. One nest box appears to have juvenile chickadees feeding young. The young of many species will share in the feeding of another generation of birds.

On July 20, Alix d'Entremont discovered six Mississippi kites in Yarmouth. By the end of the week this number had increased to 12 birds. As of July 27 there were still some about. On that day Logan Moore saw a little blue heron at Kenny Road on Cape Sable Island and there were reports of lots of shearwaters moving past all across Nova Scotia. They were mostly great and sooty shearwaters, but there were also numbers of Cory's shearwaters going by.

You may reach me at (902) 693-2174 or email jrhbirder@hotmail.com.

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