White-winged crossbill by John Harrison / Wikimedia Commons

White-winged Crossbill

Look For

White-winged crossbills are named for their best field mark (white wing bars). Red crossbills lack any white in the wings and are more brick red in color. Adult male is pinkish red overall with bold white wing bars on black wings. Females and young birds are brownish and very streaky overall; they also have white wing bars. White-winged crossbills are 6 ½ inches long.

Listen For

Song is a long unmusical rattle that slows near the end. More commonly heard is the call, given in short phrases: chi-dit, chi-dit, chi-dit!

Find It

The white-winged crossbill is a vagabond species of the far North that is highly reliant on the variable crop of spruce cones. You will always find them in flocks in spruce, hemlock, and fir forests.

Feeding Behavior

White-winged crossbills love conifer seeds! In fact, one white-winged crossbill can consume up to 3,000 conifer seeds per day. They use their crossed bills to wedge open cone scales and lift out the seeds with their tongues. 

Although they are experts at extracting conifer seeds because of their specialized bill, white-winged crossbills are less efficient than other finches at exploiting non-conifer seeds. You may also find them eating grit regularly from up-rooted tree bases and road cuts.

Nesting Behavior

Breeding is opportunistic for white-winged crossbills. It can occur throughout most of the year as long as food supply is adequate for the female to form eggs and raise young. Primarily, the female builds the nest but the male is sometimes seen carrying material to the nest. 

A typical nest is composed of conifer twigs, lichen and stems while lined with moss, hair, and cocoons. Incubation period is a little over two weeks long and conducted only by the female.


White-winged crossbills wander constantly in search of abundant spruce cones. When they find them, they will often stop to nest, even in midwinter!

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