Masthead: Kaweah Range

Continued from Naturalist's Notebook

Detail of beak: Red Crossbill. They use the crossed mandibles to extract seeds from conifer cones — prying apart cone scales then lifting out the seeds with their tongue.
Photograph © by Dennis Oehmke, Illinois Raptor Center

Legendary California birder David Gaines wrote of them: "A rare to fairly common, nomadic inhabitant of most coniferous forest habitats throughout California, but prefers lodgepole pine. Distribution and abundance fluctuate in response to availability of mature pine nuts. Nesters most numerous in lodgepole pine forests of Cascade Range, Sierra Nevada, Warner and Sweetwater Mts., and in bristlecone and limber pine forests of White and probably Inyo, Panamint, and Grapevine Mts. Also nests in Mt. Pinos region, and probably in other ranges to the south. Nesters less numerous along coast, usually in Douglas-fir, spruce-fir, fir, and closed-cone pine forests of coastal slope and coastal ranges from Oregon border south to San Francisco Bay, and probably in Santa Cruz and Santa Lucia Mts. as well. Occasionally nests in planted conifers along southern coast, as on Palos Verdes Peninsula, Los Angeles Co. A rare, erratic winter visitor to pinyon-juniper habitat throughout Great Basin, to plantings of conifers in coastal lowlands of central and southern California, and to other lowland habitats."

Later I remember seeing those crossed mandibles sifting through ashes – they weren't red at all – more yellow and orange. Much later on, I saw those red wanderers drinking from a trickle at Sky Parlor meadow. Always welcome companions as they flit through these alpine forests.





For Further Reading:

California Department of Fish and Game
California Interagency Wildlife Task Group

The Birds of North America, No. 256, 1996 (Excerpts)
Curtis S. Adkisson Red Crossbill

Red Crossbil song from:, © Copyright, 2002.

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Masthead Photo from:
Kaweahs From Trailcrest, Kings Canyon National Park
© 2009, Howard Weamer