Birds - American Crossbill
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Loxia curvirostra minor) Finch family
Called also : RED CROSSBILL
Length—6 to 7 inches. About the size of the English sparrow.
Male—General color Indian red, passing into brownish gray, with red tinge beneath. Wings (without bands), also tail, brown. Beak crossed at the tip.
Female—General color greenish yellow, with brownish tints. Dull-yellowish tints on head, throat, breast, and underneath. Wings and tail pale brown. Beak crossed at tip.
Range—Pennsylvania to northern British America. West of Mississippi, range more southerly.
Migrations—Irregular winter visitor. November. Sometimes resident until April.
It is a rash statement to say that a bird is rare simply because you have never seen it in your neighborhood, for while you are going out of the front door your rara avis may be eating the crumbs about your kitchen. Even with our eyes and ears constantly alert for some fresh bird excitement, our phlegmatic neighbor over the way may be enjoying a visit from a whole flock of the very bird we have been looking and listening for in vain all the year. The red crossbills are capricious little visitors, it is true, but by no means uncommon.
About the size of an English sparrow, of a brick or Indian red color, for the most part, the peculiarity of its parrot-like beak is its certain mark of identification.
Longfellow has rendered into verse the German legend of the crossbill, which tells that as the Saviour hung upon the cross, a little bird tried to pull out the nails that pierced His hands and feet, thus twisting its beak and staining its feathers with the blood.
At first glance the birds would seem to be hampered by their crossed beaks in getting at the seeds in the pine cones—a superficial criticism when the thoroughness and admirable dexterity of their work are better understood.
Various seeds of fruits, berries, and the buds of trees enlarge their bill of fare. They are said to be inordinately fond of salt. Mr. Romeyn B. Hough tells of a certain old ice-cream freezer that attracted flocks of crossbills one winter, as a salt-lick attracts deer. Whether the traditional salt that may have stuck to the bird's tail is responsible for its tameness is not related, but it is certain the crossbills, like most bird visitors from the far north, are remark-ably gentle, friendly little birds. As they swing about the pine trees, parrot-fashion, with the help of their bill, calling out kimp, kimp, that sounds like the snapping of the pine cones on a sunny day, it often seems easily possible to catch them with the hand.
There is another species of crossbill, called the White-winged (Loxia leucoptera), that differs from the preceding chiefly in having two white bands across its wings and in being more rare.