Thursday, October 15, 2015

A (Not So Very) Red Crossbill at Lava Beds National Monument

Continuing a short series around the campground water faucet, we are showing off the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra). These are the birds who were making use of the only secure source of water in Lava Beds National Monument (there are no surface streams because precipitation sinks into the joints and fissures of the lava flows). The first post of the series featured an American Robin.
I've only seen the Red Crossbill once before, in the White Mountains of eastern California. I didn't recognize these birds at Lava Beds because they were far up the trees and they weren't red (these are juveniles and lack the bright red color), and I couldn't make out the crossed bills. I thought they were some kind of finch (they are actually in the finch family), but a birder in the campground mentioned their identity as he walked by.
The crossbills take their name from their uniquely evolved beak. It looks broken or offset, but it actually allows them to pry open conifer cones, allowing them to reach the seeds inside. They are completely dependent on cones for their survival, so they migrate to places where cones are ripening, and can breed at any time of the year if food is available.

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