For the Birds Radio Program: Crossbill

Original Air Date: Jan. 31, 1997

Laura finds herself rehabbing a Red Crossbill, which is making her feel richer than Donald Trump.

Audio missing


Last week, Kim Eckert was leading one of his famous birding weekend trips through north country when he came upon what looked like a dead Red Crossbill on a road near Isabella. Crossbills are fairly small dickey birds, and he didn’t notice it until a split second before he drove over it, but since he didn’t squish it with his wheels, he used a CB radio to call the field trip van behind him to stop and check it out, since you can get a better look at plumage details on a dead crossbill than you can on most live ones. The second driver got out, and what to his wondering eyes should appear but a little crossbill that was still quite alive. It was missing all the primary wing feathers on one wing, and its feet were embedded in packed road snow so it was hopelessly stuck, but it seemed healthy enough. The birders gently dug the tiny bird’s feet out, and it didn’t seem at all frightened. Crossbills, like many northern finches, don’t have many mammalian enemies, and this one seemed pretty darned tame. They offered it some water which it drank eagerly, and when they got to Duluth, Kim brought it to me.

I’ve actually let my rehabilitation license expire, since I don’t have enough time to devote to rehab now, but l could hardly turn my back on this little crossbill. He won’t be with me for long–it’ll only be a matter of a few weeks before his wing feathers grow in and he’s flying again. Since he’s doing so well, it isn’t worth stressing the poor thing out by sending him all the way to the Twin Cities to a rehab facility and then transporting him all the way back for release, so I got informal permission to take care of him for the short time he needs it.

He’s a handsome adult male, with brick red plumage and that trademark bizarrely crossed bill. But what is most endearing is his tame, confiding manner. I don’t have to cage him–he’s loose in my office where he doesn’t even mess up my desk, since he spends virtually all his time perched on my shoulder or somewhere near my other birds. Sneakers was very suspicious of him at first, but he quickly made friends with her. He also got on the good side of Joey’s pet starling Mortimer.

But he’s most partial to our pet lovebird Rosie, spending most of his time perched on the outside of her cage, looking in at her. Crossbills eat primarily conifer seeds–Red Crossbills specialize in extracting the seeds from pine cones. It was Rosie the Lovebird who taught this little crossbill how to crack open and eat sunflower seeds.

So far I haven’t gotten a water dish for him–he’s perfectly content with his current system of getting water, which is to hop on my finger and give me a very hard stare until I take him to the bathroom faucet to give him a drink. All in all, he’s one of the coolest, and certainly THE lowest-maintenance wild bird I’ve ever had.

I recently calculated that if I were working full time for minimum wage, I’d more than double what I’m earning right now. But the pleasures [ get are worth a lot more than money. I bet Donald Trump never had a Red Crossbill sit on his finger and look deep into his eyes. I may not be rich, but with a Red Crossbill on my finger in a house filled with laughing children and a funny little Blue Jay named Sneakers, I feel like the richest woman on the planet.