Saturday, March 16, 2013

Whit-winged Crossbills; Northern Illinois Winter Visitors

An immature, male and female White-winged Crossbill, near Anna Page Park, Rockford, IL; 2/5/2012.
I often use the IBET, a birding site that birders throughout Illinois use to post about what birds they have seen (Link to the site at right):

 A year ago, I noticed that one of the local active birders posted a report about a small flock of White-winged Crossbills were present in some Spruce trees on a road West of Rockford. I thought, Fantastic! - White-winged Crossbills (Above) would be an addition to my life list and it wasn't more than a 15-20 minute drive from my house. So off I went. After finding the spot, I explored the area and the grove of Spruce they were observed in. After a few minutes I heard some commotion in the trees and saw a flurry of activity high in one of the Spruce.  I zoomed-in on the birds which wouldn't stay still and hid themselves fairly well in the thick boughs. But I captured a few in my viewfinder long enough to identify them as the Crossbills I was hoping to see. I couldn't get a good photo as they wouldn't stay in an open spot for more than a  second or two. I slowly circled he grove of trees they were feeding in, but like the good instincts of wildlife trying to protect themselves from intruders, they always kept distance and branches in between them and me. Eventually, I was on the complete opposite side of the trees than where I parked my car on the side of the road. The Crossbills sunk deeper into the center of the tree, where they were impossible to see. I made the decision to climb through the thick lower boughs to get under the tree to see if I could get a photo of one of them from the inside.

A warp of White-winged Crossbills near Anna Page Park, Rockford, IL; 2/5/2012.
No sooner did I get near the trunk at the center of the Spruce and look upwards, a flock of 10 White-winged Crossbills (Above) double crossed me and landed on the roadside next to my parked car.  So I had the task of trying to sneak out from under the tree and circle back towards my car. They were now in the open, but I had to try to get to a spot where I could take pictures without scaring them back into the tree.
A female White-winged Crossbill, near Anna Page Park, Rockford, IL; 2/5/2012.
Eventually, after some stealthy movement, I was able to make a rather wide arc back around behind my car - opposite the side that the Crossbills were feeding on the ground.  Then I was able to use my car as sort of blind, and to my pleasant surprise the Crossbills did not flush back into the thick Spruce trees. I was then able to take some photos (Above and Below):

An immature male and female White-winged Crossbill near Anna Page Park, Rockford, IL; 2/5/2012.

Male White-winged Crossbills have a rosy reddish head, back, and breast, with dark lores and a small collar. They also have black wings with two bold white stripes (hence its name). Females are yellowish with the same wing markings. Immature Crossbills look like females with some additional streaking on their heads, back, flanks and breasts. Immature males will start molting into their red feathers thus giving them a rather splotchy red/yellow look about them (Above left). And of course, one can't forget about their bills which sport a long curved-down upper bill which crosses over its long curved-up lower mandible.

Another immature male White-winger Crossbill, starting to earn its red-feathered status of a male grown up, near Anna Page Park, Rockford, IL; 2/5/2012.
A male and female pair of White-winged Crossbills, near Anna Page Park, Rockford, IL; 2/5/2012.

A pair of White-winged Crossbills, near Anna Page Park, Rockford, IL; 2/5/2012.
It seems that just in recent winters that White-winged Crossbills have been venturing as far south as Illinois looking for a winter residence with enough food. Usually they will migrate only as far south as Central Wisconsin and across the most Northern States.  They usually spend their winters where they are also found during any season - across most of Canada, from coast to coast.
A good look at the crossbill of one of the females of this species.

No comments: