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Crossbill by Peter Christian

Look out for Crossbills this Christmas

Although the Robin is the bird most closely associated with Christmas, Crossbills are also a common sight. Biodiversity Warden David Wright tells us more about the bird and where to spot it:

If you go down to the woods today….

Recent weeks have seen a large arrival of a fascinating bird species into the Manx uplands.

Crossbills are a large, chunky, species of finch which are adapted to living in conifer forests.

The Crossbill does indeed have a ‘crossed bill’ which is its unique adaptation to feeding on the seeds within pine cones. It literally levers the plates of the cone open to get at the seeds.

The birds are rarely found away from conifer trees, and the Isle of Man has a large area of conifer forests, with a variety of tree species.

Different conifer tree species cones open or ‘ripen’ at different times and Crossbills move around to feed on these cones.

So they can appear for a few weeks, and suddenly disappear as quickly, to a new forest area.

Autumn 2019 has been a particularly good year for cones on Norway Spruce, and this is what the influx of Crossbills are feeding on at the moment. Different species such as pine and larch open at a different time, so the birds move on to feed on these.

So if you want to see Crossbills, it’s also a great way to combine a recreational visit to one of the Island's plantations.

Visit any of the Manx upland conifer plantations, such as South Barrule, Conrhenny or Ballaugh, and its likely you will see Crossbills over the holiday period.

Walking quietly through the woods, their loud ‘glip glip’ calls often alert you to their presence and, if you’re really lucky, you will find a feeding group as they crack open cones and release a shower of seeds through the branches.

They also regularly visit puddles and streams to drink, as they have a very dry diet.

The males are bright red and the females light green in colour.

If you follow one of the many trails or tracks around these areas, it’s a great way of getting some fresh air and exercise during the Christmas period.

As well as spotting Crossbills, lots of other birds spend the winter in the conifer plantations such as sparrowhawk, long-eared owl, siskin, redpoll and goldcrests. 

Photo: Peter Christian

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