Conifers bring crossbills flocking in

COMMON CROSSBILL FEEDING YOUNG (Loxia curvirostra - Male)
COMMON CROSSBILL FEEDING YOUNG (Loxia curvirostra - Male)

NATURE lovers are flocking over the border to see large numbers of crossbills at Kielder.

Thousands of the finches have appeared in the 62,000 hectare (155,000 acre) park attracted by an abundance of conifer seed crop seed this year.

Martin Davison, a Forestry Commission ornithologist who has worked in Kielder for more than 30 years monitoring and protecting bird life, said: “Some years the bird fails to show up at all, so getting such large numbers is very special. It all depends on how good the cone crop is and this year it is very good indeed.

“It’s impossible to say how many have arrived [in the park], but a guess could put it as high as 10,000 pairs. That could be the biggest breeding population in the country at the moment.”

After chicks fledge, the birds often form noisy family groups or larger flocks flying close to treetop height and feeding acrobatically, fluttering from cone to cone. Male crossbills have a distinctive brick-red hue while females are greenish-brown. The birds hang upside down like parrots to strip the seed from the cones.

Crossbills have chicks in January and February which take to the wing in March and they start to leave in May.

In the Borders, though there are no reports of unusual numbers of crossbills, RSPB Borders conservation officer Mike Fraser says ospreys (picture, top of page) have been sighted in Midlothian and are expected back in the Borders any day now.

Wheatears have arrived on the coast and sand martins are among the first to return after winter he said.

“It’s such a treat to see them all coming back – it happens every year but the excitement never wears off.”

He added that stay-at-home species seemed to have wintered well: “The little birds – the long-tailed tits, goldcrests and tree creepers – which can be at risk after a winter like this last one,seem to have come through all right.”