Three species of crossbill can be found in Scotland, but one of these is particularly special – though it’s very hard to pick it out from the others. RSPB Scotland’s Allie McGregor shares five facts about the special Scottish crossbill.
5 facts you should know about the Scottish crossbill
1) The Scottish crossbill is the UK’s only endemic bird species – this means it is found nowhere else in the world. There has been much debate over the years about whether they are truly a distinct species as they are incredibly similar to other crossbill in the UK. However, research has shown that they are reproductively isolated and have some distinctive features.
2) Scottish crossbills are finches. They are related to birds including chaffinches, bullfinches, and siskins. Finches are known to have very colourful plumage and the Scottish crossbill is no exception. Males have bold brick red plumage while females have grey-green or yellow-green.
3) Breeding starts quite early for the Scottish crossbill. They may lay eggs as early as February, but more often this takes place in March or April. The Scottish Crossbill breeds in the native Scots pine, however, it is also known to breed in non-native conifers, such as Larch and Lodgepole pine.
4) Unsurprisingly given their name, Scottish crossbills are found in the Scottish Highlands, particularly in Caledonian forest. They largely survive on the seeds of conifers, from both Scots pine and non-native trees. Like other crossbills, they use the tips of the upper and lower parts of its beak to tweak open pinecones, which are twisted. Once they’ve done this they can poke their tongue into the opening to get the seeds.
5) Some people say that this species of crossbill has its own Scottish accent. They have a distinct call from other crossbills. It is thought that the unique call is used to ensure they only attract potential mates of the same species, given the physical similarities with other crossbills. Click the image below to listen to a recording of the Scottish crossbill.
I'm not very good at identification, and nowhere near good enough to report to the BTO any sightings. I'm happy to take any Crossbill I see just as a Crossbill species.
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