Sunday, August 9, 2015

Featured Feathered Friend: Red Crossbills

One of the great things about my job is the proximity to some great flora and fauna, including birds like the spunky Acorn Woodpeckers. Another great thing is having my own office with windows that give me 3rd story views over a grassy patch housing large Sweetgum Trees. In these close trees, I’ve gotten good looks at Black-Capped Chickadees, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Bushtits, and the occasional Downy Woodpecker. However, over a few weeks in mid-April this year, I heard an odd raucous outside my window which I couldn’t quite identify. I could see flashes of red and yellow, but without my binoculars, I could only take my best guess that these were Red Crossbills!

Male and Female Red Crossbills

Male Red Crossbill

Female Red Crossbill

We had barely gotten mediocre looks at a couple of Red Crossbills previously on the coast at Beaver Creek. I thought surely this couldn’t be true that these birds that tend to feed high up in conifer trees would be right outside my window eating from the sweetgum balls. I conferred with a birder coworker of mine, and he independently suspected the same. He said he hadn’t really seen these guys here before, but other birders I spoke to later said that this does in fact happen every so often as Red Crossbills fly through town.

The next day, I was prepared with binoculars and my camera, and after rearranging some office furniture, I was able to get a good look out and capture these fleeting migrants through my windows that luckily open in our older building. It was quite an incredible sight to see hoards of these very hungry birds swarm to the sweetgum balls and just tear through those seed pods. They are some of the most interesting birds, in my opinion, in terms of form and function. Those bills are just so bizarre and anyone unfamiliar with them would think it impossible to eat with them. But watching them use those pointy, sickle-like bills pry open those gumballs with such ease was quite impressive.

They would only come once or twice a day for the next few days, and then again a week later. I tried to bring Nick to campus over the weekend to try to witness this spectacle, but alas, he was not so lucky. Hopefully he’ll be able to enjoy them with me the next time they decide to grace us with their presence.