Red Crossbill at WildCare

You can see the surprisingly crossed bill the bird has in this photo.

When WildCare Medical Staff wraps a songbird’s injured wing, they don’t generally expect to come back the next day and find the wrap scissored to pieces. But that’s what happened with this Red Crossbill!

The unique scissor bill is specially adapted for accessing the seeds within pine and other cones but it clearly has another use: removing wing wraps! Typically we only face this challenge with larger, stronger birds of prey. This is our first songbird Houdini.

He is also a very unusual patient at WildCare (we’ve only admitted two others since 1997).

This crossbill was admitted to the Wildlife Hospital with a swollen and drooping wrist, after being found in Golden Gate Park, grounded by his injury. Once he was in care at WildCare, Medical Staff went quickly into action to give the bird pain medications and anti-inflammatories. They wrapped the wing and made sure the bird was comfortable. Then they had to find something for him to eat!

These handsome birds are finches, and they live in mature conifer forests where their extremely specialized beaks give them access to the seeds inside cones. They like the seeds from coniferous trees like spruce, pine, Douglas Fir and hemlock.

The bill apparently helps the bird remove his wing wrap! In this photo you can see he’s already started on the new one.

A crossbill uses his extremely specialized beak in a very interesting way to access his food. The bird will place his slightly open beak under the scale of a cone, and he will bite down. Closing the beak causes the two raised tips to lift up the scale of the cone, giving the bird access to the tasty seed inside.

Crossbills are nomadic birds, and they flock to areas where there is a high concentration of conifer seeds. They don’t really migrate, but instead move from one area of high food concentration to another.

There must be something that attracted this bird to Golden Gate Park, but we’ll never know what caused his injury. As of this writing, his prognosis is guarded, as the wing injury is significant.

Aside from this crossbill, WildCare’s Birdroom is also full of migratory songbirds, most notably Hermit Thrushes. These birds arrive at WildCare in large numbers this time of year, usually after hitting windows or being caught by cats. Migration is incredibly hard for tiny songbirds like these thrushes, and WildCare asks people to give them every chance at success by keeping cats indoors, and covering or placing a visual barrier in front of glass windows to break up the reflection.

Click here to learn more about keeping songbirds safe in your yard!

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