Today we had a surprise visit from a group of 4 Red Crossbills. Two males and two females. We are in Northwestern Wisconsin and it was our first time seeing them. They are a little larger than a sparrow, with a short tail, and have that distinguishing feature: a crossed bill. But it was the plumage that really made them stand out.
The females in the group were a rich olive green. The feathers on their heads and backs were edged in black and when they bent their heads to pick up a seed a sequined pattern would appear in the feathers. The males were not a true red but more of a burnt orange. Especially against the eternal white of winter these birds added a welcomed splash of color.
Red Crossbills are very adaptable birds. They range over much of the US and Canada and their body size, color, and beak length all change depending on their location. The crossed bill is essential for removing seeds from conifer cones which are the main food source for these birds. If food is plentiful Red Crossbills will breed at almost any time and it is not uncommon for them to hatch eggs throughout the winter.
Here is a short video of the Red Crossbills at our bird feeders this morning. We hope to see them again soon!
For more info check out http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red_Crossbill/id