Scotland's Wildlife: Scottish Crossbill

Scottish Crossbill (c) RSPB images

The Scottish Crossbill has the distinction of being the UK's only unique bird species.

It is a member of the finch family and is distinguished by a large head and a substantial bill which, as the name implies, crosses at the tip. The bill has developed to help the birds extract the seeds from, primarily, conifer cones. Confined to the pine forests of the Highlands, the Scottish Crossbill has been placed in the critical red category of conservation importance for UK birds.

There are two other species of Crossbill in the UK, the Common Crossbill and the Parrot Crossbill. The three are difficult to distinguish between, particularly the Common and the Scottish variants.

In late winter or early spring courtship begins when the males flock together to sing loudly in chorus, each individual seeking to broadcast his fitness for mating. Males become increasingly aggressive towards one another. When a female accepts a male, they touch bills and he feeds her to confirm their partnership. They build a nest of twigs, which is lined with grass, lichen and feathers, 10-15m up in a pine tree.

Where to see them
Scottish Crossbills can be seen in the pine forests of the Highlands.

When to see them
All year round.

Page first published on Monday 7th April 2008
Page last updated on Friday 17th October 2008

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Latin Name: Loxia scotica
Gaelic name: Cam-ghob
Meaning: Crooked bill
Body length 16.5cm
Wingspan 27.5-31.5cm
Weight 36.5-49g.
Physical Description
Sparrow-sized member of the finch family with the eponymous crossed mandibles. The bill size is intermediate between the common crossbill and parrot crossbill. The male has a bright orange-red, brick-coloured plumage, while the female is a dull green-yellow.
Scottish Distribution
Scots pine forests of the Scottish Highlands.
Scots pine forests of the Scottish Highlands.
Almost exclusively seeds of Scots pine. Some small insects taken in breeding season.
Nesting may occur at anytime between February and June, although most eggs are laid in March and April. The clutch size varies from 2-6 eggs depending on the availability of pine seeds. The female incubates the eggs for around two weeks, the male providing food for her during this time. Both birds feed the young, which leave the nest about three weeks after hatching. June can be a lean time for crossbills as many of the pines have already shed their seeds. The birds either move onto trees elsewhere or resort to eating green seeds. For the first 10 days after leaving the nest the fledglings’ bills are not crossed and they cannot get seeds from the tough pinecones. Instead they continue to rely on their parents for food.

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