After days in the 60s, on Saturday the cold was back. But winter has its pleasures, especially when you’re watching birds. This winter, White-winged Crossbills — usually rare visitors — have been almost everywhere in the lower Great Lakes states. (Well, not in our neighborhood, but that’s another story.)
Most Crossbills had been seen far up in evergreens like spruce and hemlock, prying seeds from cones with their amazing bills. Then about a week ago we read reports of Crossbills feeding on the ground. White Pines are another favorite food of Crossbills, and the pines at Swallow Cliff Forest Preserve had littered the ground with their sticky cones.
On our third try, we finally saw them. First they were resting in the trees, then they dropped to the ground to feed:
By standing quietly, the boys had Crossbills forage within a foot of their shoes. Aaron says one flew right past his ear, about an inch away! It reminded me of when the boys first started birding, about four years ago. They wouldn’t use binoculars. They preferred to stalk their birds and then recount how closely they approached each kind.
Chris and Geoff Williamson had pointed out the Crossbills when we first arrived. Geoff took lots of photos, too, and he’s sharing them on this Web page. He got really close-up views of Crossbill beaks, plus photos of female Crossbills and other kinds of birds. (His photos of Aaron and Ethan are near the bottom of his page.)
For our family, walking with Crossbills was almost as exciting as swimming with dolphins! If you want to see them, too, you must be patient and persistent. Some folks haven’t seen them until their fifth visit to the park, and even then they had to wait for the birds to feed on the ground. Check the Illinois birding email list for the latest news on Swallow Cliff Crossbills.