With its mandibles permanently crossed to help it tweak seeds from the cones of pines and other conifers, an adult crossbill has one of the world’s weirdest beaks. In Scotland, the most widespread species is the common crossbill. But in some places, there is also a separate type - the Scottish crossbill - found here and nowhere else in the world.
What to look for
Many good views of crossbills begin with hearing a small flock of them flying nearby as they make distinctive ‘chup’ calls. Look high in trees if the flock lands and watch for parrot-like moves in the branches (a crossbill will hang upside down, if needs be, to prise-off a cone). The head and bill of a Scottish crossbill are more massive than those of a common crossbill.
Crossbills are one of a group of creatures and plants found throughout the pine-and-spruce-dominated ‘boreal’ forest that rings the northern world. (This covers a much bigger area, but has many fewer species, than tropical rainforests). Others include martens, tree squirrels (including the red) and plants such as twinflower.
When and where to see
Crossbills breed amazingly early in the year (their pine seed food is in ready supply at that time). So you can listen for the male’s song from late winter (check treetops). Groups with fledged young get more obvious in the second half of summer.
For more information see the Scottish crossbill page on Trees for Life.