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Winter Visitors, part 4 – That Other Finch With The Odd Beak!

March 9, 2013

Red Crossbill

One week ago, an interesting couple of posts appeared on the Ohio Birds listserv:

Subject: Red Crossbills in Dublin (Franklin Co)
From: Paul Hurtado <paul.j.hurtado AT GMAIL.COM>
Date: Sat, 2 Mar 2013 23:19:16 -0500

Hi all,

Steve Rissing has a pair of RED CROSSBILLS coming to his backyard feeders
in Dublin, OH. Today I managed to record a few flight calls, which suggest
they are type 3 Red Crossbills -- the most common type being reported in
the eastern U.S. this winter.  Type 3s typically spend the breeding season
in the Pacific Northwest (from Oregon up into Alaska) and are considered
Western Hemlock specialists (though they can clearly get by with a range of
other conifers!).

Photos of the female and some audio of their relatively high pitched,
snappy calls can be found at
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S13243757

Steve is fine to have people come by on Sunday, so long as they respect a
few ground rules. I'll post a follow-up if there will be any viewing
opportunities during the week.

Steve asks that visitors park on the street and walk up the driveway to the
back corner of the house. There's no need to alert the Rissings to your
presence. He'll likely have some chairs at the top of the driveway with a
clip-board and pencil so that he (and others) can leave any relevant
information, like when they were last seen.  If you round the corner much
at all, you will spook the birds at the feeders, so please use the corner
of the house as a blind and do not enter the back yard. This will ensure
minimal disturbance for the birds, and for their mammalian hosts. ;-)

The crossbills have been using almost exclusively the red-topped, plastic
tube feeder on the pole with a light blue 8" PVC pipe raccoon deterrent.

Steve will try to have the feeders full by 9:00am, so it's probably not
worth getting there much earlier than that.  Morning seems better than
afternoon.

*Directions*: Take Dublin Rd. north past 270 and turn left on Windwood
Drive, then right on Rushwood Dr.  His address is XXXX Rushwood Dr.

Good birding,
Paul Hurtado
Columbus, OH

 Subject: Re: Red Crossbills in Dublin (Franklin Co)
From: Paul Hurtado <paul.j.hurtado AT GMAIL.COM>
 Date: Sun, 3 Mar 2013 22:48:02 -0500

The Red Crossbills at the Rissing residence in Dublin cooperated by putting
in time at the feeders this morning, but not so much this afternoon. That
seems to be the pattern over the past few days.

If anyone wants to look for them this week, Steve Rissing says they are
happy to have more you well behaved birders come by between 9am-noon from
now through next weekend. If the birds leave, he or I will post something
to the listserv.  Same instructions for visiting apply (see below for
details and directions).

After the coming weekend, anyone interested in looking for the crossbills
should contact Steve via email at steverissing(at)xxxxxxx.com.

Good birding,
Paul Hurtado

Now I don’t have to tell you that such a post as this will attract the attention of birders, beginner and veteran alike.  In my case, I’d never seen a Red Crossbill (they’re a fairly rare winter visitor here), so I was immediately interested.  I headed out to Dublin the next morning.

A word about Dublin.  This is an upscale suburb of Columbus.  It has a small historical district that’s been refurbished quite nicely- I took some photographs there last year, and this is a good enough time to share them.

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The historical district gives a folksy feel to this well-off technology business and residential suburb.  The homes in the area are quite impressive too.

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I drove past the historical district a little ways and turned into the development where the Red Crossbills had been seen recently.

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I came upon the address I was looking for- it was easy enough to find, with all of the cars parked along the curb on a Monday morning!

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Sure enough, at the end of the driveway were some chairs and a small crowd of birders intent on looking into the backyard on that cold but sunny morning.

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Hardcore birders tend to know each other, and this crowd was no exception.  I knew a couple of them casually, having bumped into them on previous rare bird hunts.  The camaraderie among birders is good, because everyone present greatly enjoys seeing birds and talking about seeing them.  Many a tale was told while we were awaiting the star birds.

“Did you see the geese out at Prairie Oaks a while back?”

“The Ross’s and the White-Fronteds?”

“Yeah!”

“I went the day after they were reported, and they weren’t there.”

“I saw them- got some pictures, too.  They’re on eBird.”

“…I work around some areas where there are rural barns, and know some people who’ve seen Barn Owls up close…”

“The Amish birders love to talk about them…”

“I’m with the Columbus Audubon Society, and we’re taking a field trip up to see a Barn Owl in a barn this June- you’re welcome to come with us.”

“…I drove up here from Logan today!  Living down in the hills makes it harder to get up north, now I have an extra 50 miles just to get to Columbus, not to mention Killdeer Plains being that much farther away…”

“…I paint nature murals, I’ve done some in this area.”

“…I’m glad to see that Jay’s doing a Big Year this year- he’s blogging about it, have you seen that?  He swung down into St. Louis from Minnesota to get the Eurasian Sparrow…”

“…Have I seen you somewhere before?  At that little bar and pool hall along so-and-so road?”

“Yeah, that was me.”

“And you’re a birder!”

“…Have you hit 300 species yet?”

“289!”

“You’re close!”

This pleasant banter was disturbed by some birds appearing at the backyard feeders we were watching.  Spotting scopes, binoculars and cameras swung into action.

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There were all sorts of attractive seeds, suet and peanut butter available- no wonder this was a popular feeding area.  The yard bordered upon a thicket of woods, and had some evergreens, too.  We could hear birds in the trees calling.

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That’s surely a Red-Breasted Nuthatch up there.

“It’s been a GREAT season for Red-Breasteds.”

“It surely has!”

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This handsome Bluebird showed up, checking things out.

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This White-Breasted Nuthatch followed suit.

Some of my fellow birders spotted the female Red Crossbill up in a tree- I couldn’t quite see her, but then the male showed up at the feeder…

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Red Crossbills are, according to Cornell University’s All About Birds site,

A stocky finch of mature coniferous forests…dependent on the seed cones that are its main food.Its peculiar bill allows it access to the seeds, and it will breed whenever it finds areas with an abundance of cones. It may wander widely between years to find a good cone crop.

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I had seen the related White-Winged Crossbill earlier this winter, so being able to see both of these birds in one season was fantastic.

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This male was enjoying the seeds in this feeder.  It can be much harder to spot them in the upper reaches of evergreens, extracting seeds from pinecones with their unique crossed bills.

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This year was a big year for winter visitors from the north- Crossbills had been sighted here and there across Ohio, generating much interest.

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This bird seemed to keep half an eye upon the appreciative crowd off to the side.  He didn’t realize what a star he was.  He was far from his usual home.

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The Goldfinch on the right almost looked like he was waiting his turn for some seeds.

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A Tufted Titmouse dropped by, too.

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Shortly after our male Red Crossbill flew back up into the trees, temporarily sated with seeds, Steve Rissling (the property owner) came out to say hello to us birders.  Steve is a Professor of Biology at nearby Ohio State University, and has a column in the city paper.  Here are a couple of articles he’s written:

Backyard Birds take more Risks in Winter (The Columbus Dispatch, 1-29-10)

Biology Students: Get Out of the House (The Columbus Dispatch, 9-26-10)

We thanked Steve for his graciousness at letting strangers tramp up his driveway and peer into his backyard to see his rare visitors (I can only imagine how most people would be driven crazy by this- birders can be an eccentric lot).  I’m sure I wasn’t the only birder to add the Red Crossbill to my life list due to his desire to share knowledge about our natural world with others.  He discussed how he hoped to see younger people take up an interest in nature observation- let’s face it, many of us birders are middle-aged or even older.

Steve is right- passing on a love for the great outdoors and its denizens is a vital goal.  All of us would be lucky to have such a good neighbor.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2013 11:50 pm

    How kind of them to allow birders to come by for a peek.

  2. March 10, 2013 4:20 am

    Excellent post! I am just getting to know the birding community, it is a special group who seem to go out of their way to help others.

    • March 10, 2013 10:59 am

      Thanks! Birders often have a tremendous amount of practical knowledge about the subjects they care about. Many a time I’ve been glad to keep a thought to myself when a birder had superior knowledge on a subject. There’s a good and practical reason that ‘respecting one’s elders’ makes sense.

  3. March 10, 2013 8:50 am

    Thanks for posting pictures of the crossbills and your drive to Dublin. You’re right – birders can be an eclectic group, but so can dog-lovers, cat-lovers and horse-lovers! I fall into all four of these groups!

  4. March 10, 2013 7:08 pm

    I was wondering as I read the post why the homeowner allowed so many strangers in his yard, but you answered that question so I’ll just say that I’m glad you found what you went looking for. I love it when that happens with plants too.

    • March 11, 2013 9:33 am

      The professor was quite generous with his rare bird find- and the birders were as a whole respectful of the opportunity given them. It worked out well!

  5. March 12, 2013 6:39 pm

    I got my lifer Red Crossbill this year as well at Spring Grove Cemetery which is still hosting White-winged Crossbills as well. Great Story.

  6. March 13, 2013 12:11 am

    Crossbills visit here too in summer, but none have arrived yet. I did see a few grossbeaks today though.

  7. March 13, 2013 8:05 am

    Hi. The birding community knows how to share information and enthusiasm!!! Jane

  8. April 8, 2013 6:02 pm

    love the pictures of the birds… susan backyardfeatheredfriend.com

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