WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL – (Loxia leucoptera)
The White-winged Crossbill is part of the finch family. Adult males are red with dark brown wings with two white bars. They have a dark stripe across the eye. The tail is brown. The bill and legs are grey. Females have yellow plumage where the males have the red color, and the under parts and wings are grey. The bird is around 15 cm (6 in.) long.
The white-winged crossbill is known as Two-barred Crossbill outside of North America. These two names refer to the two white bars on the bird’s wings, and ‘crossbill’ refers to the bill’s two curved mandibles that cross at the tip. The Latin name ‘Loxia’ means ‘crooked’ and also refers to the bill shape, and ‘leucoptera’ refers to a ‘white wing’.
This finch has a highly specialized bill to extract conifer cone seeds, and it has a preference for spruce and tamarack (larch) seeds. White-winged crossbills will breed at any time of the year, and their breeding cycles are related to food availability rather than the weather. They can also have more than one clutch a year. They build their nests high on a spruce tree branch.
The white-winged crossbill breeds on PEI, but since this is an irruptive species, its numbers will fluctuate over the seasons. Sightings are ‘occasional’ for the summer. Its overall breeding range includes the coniferous forests in Canada (85% of the breeding population in North America), Alaska, the north part of the USA, and in the northern regions of Europe and Asia. It is usually a year-round resident, but will ‘irrupt’ in large flocks wherever a good food source is found.
Conservation: white-wing crossbill populations are difficult to assess due to the irruptive nature of this species, but they appear to be stable. However this species is vulnerable to forestry practices, as they need mature conifers for a good seed crop.