Identification: The Crossbill is something of a Parrot of the Pine Forests. Their stout build, clumsy looking beaks and habits of sidling along branches or pecking at pine cones while they hold them in one foot are all distinctly parrot-like. Crossbills are slightly bigger but distinctly fatter-looking than, say, Chaffinches, and have big bills with pointed mandibles crossed at the tips. The males are brick-red on the head, back and underparts, the females more of a dark browny-green with an obvious yellow rump. Juveniles are grey-brown and heavily streaked but lacking white or yellow in the wing or tail. Their bills are initially uncrossed but are still far too stout to allow any confusion with say Redpoll.
Habitat: Breeds and winters in coniferous plantations and woodlands with a preference for spruces.
Distribution: An uncommon resident that breeds in highly variable numbers, depending on whether there have been large-scale 'irruptions' from Scandinavia. Some sites hold populations regaradless of this including Kielder Forest in Northumberland, Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire, Breckland, Clocaenog Forest in Clwyd and Grizedale Forest in Cumbria.
Breeds throughout Europe in almost all areas where there are coniferous forests, though they are often difficult to locate in some years.
Population: Estimates are difficult since the Scottish Crossbill has been given specific status. Between 1 000-5 000 breeding pairs were estimated before extensive invasions over the past 10 years. Numbers may now be as high as 40 000 birds in Britain and Ireland.
1.0-1.6 million breeding pairs in scattered populations across western Europe but becoming more widespread in southern central Europe, eastern Spain and north-eastern Europe and Scandinavia.