Crossbills have a reputation as the most nomadic and irruptive of the winter finches, and this is their year to be found locally and all over southern New England. Populations shift with the success or failure of the cone crop in the boreal forests, and since it was not a good year in eastern Canada – the White-winged Crossbill has descended on Massachusetts! Birders have estimated flocks of nearly 300 individuals at the Salisbury State Park.
Here at Mount Auburn there have been many sightings – between 10-30 birds over the last several weeks. Crossbills are usually “on the go” and often just land on a tree for a very short time before moving on. Eventually, flocks will work trees with a good cone crop, notably Eastern White Pine, and will frequently return until the cones have been stripped of seeds. Crossbills are very tame, most that arrive here have probably not had much interaction with people, therefore approaching them may be easy. They will often feed on cones that have fallen from the tree. And although they are silent when feeding, the sound of cracking cones can be a good indicator that they are present. While they are up in the tree however, they can be difficult to find as they move around in an almost parrot-like manner.
White-winged Crossbills have been seen at the Cemetery in Eastern White Pine, which are plentiful throughout the grounds and with a lot of cones this year. One area where you can find several Eastern White Pines is along the Coolidge Street border. Other areas of the Cemetery where crossbills have been found are in the Hemlocks near Swan Avenue and the pines near the tower. Crossbills are very noisy in flight and if you are aware of this while walking around the Cemetery – you may be rewarded with some close-up views!
Photo by Jeremiah Trimble.