Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE COMMON CROSSBILL.
LOXIA CURVIROSTRA, Linn.
PLATE CC.--MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.
This species I have found more abundant in Maine, and in the British
provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, than any where else. Although I
have met with it as early as the month of August in the Great Pine Forest of
Pennsylvania, I have never seen its nest. Many persons in the State of Maine
assured me that they had found it on pine trees in the middle of winter, and
while the earth was deeply covered with snow. The people employed in cutting
pine timber at that season, when it is easier to remove the logs to the rivers,
in which they are subsequently floated when the ice melts, have very frequently
told me, that on felling a tree they have caught the young Crossbills, which had
been jerked out of their nest. Several of my acquaintances in that district
promised to send me nests, eggs, and young; but as yet, I am sorry to say, none
of them have reached me. While at Labrador I was much disappointed at not
finding a single bird of this species, although the White-winged Crossbill was
tolerably abundant there; and in Newfoundland matters were precisely the same.
The Crossbill lives in flocks, composed apparently of several families, and
is an extremely gentle and social bird. They are easily approached, caught in
traps, or even killed with a stick. So unsuspicious are they with respect to
man, that they not unfrequently come up to the very door of the woodman's cabin,
and pick the mud with which he has plastered the spaces between the logs of
which it is composed. When the huts are raised on blocks, to prevent dampness,
they are often seen under them, picking up the earth for want of better food,
while the weather is at its coldest.
Their food consists principally of the seeds contained in the cones of
different species of the pine and fir. In the pine forests of Pennsylvania I
saw them feeding on those of the white pine, the hemlock, and the spruce, as
well as on various kinds of fruits. Wherever an apple-tree bore fruit, the
Crossbills were sure to be on it, cutting the apples to pieces in order to get
at the seeds, in the manner of our Parakeet of the south. Nothing can exceed
the dexterity with which they extricate the seeds from the cones with their
bill, the point of the upper mandible of which they employ as a hook, placing it
at the base of the seed, and drawing it up with a sudden jerk of the head. They
frequently stand on one foot only, and employ the other in conveying, the food
to their bill, in the manner of parrots. They are fond of all saline matter.
The flight of this species is undulating, firm, tolerably swift, and
capable of being protracted over a large space. While travelling they pass in
the air in straggling flocks, and keep up a constant noise, each individual now
and then emitting a clear note or call. They move with ease on the ground,
alight sidewise on the walls of houses and on trees, on the twigs of which they
climb with the aid of their bill. When caged they soon become tame, and are fed
without any difficulty.
I have presented you with a flock of these Crossbills, composed of
individuals of different ages, engaged in their usual occupations, on a branch
of their favourite tree, the hemlock pine.
Much has been said and repeated respecting the colours of this species as
connected with the differences of sex and age. Accustomed as I am to judge of
every thing relating to ornithology on the spot where I can procure specimens,
and examine them with all necessary care, I have not failed to employ this
method in the present case, and I now give it as my opinion that, although
learned naturalists may contradict what I am about to state, it will eventually,
be acknowledged to be correct. I have shot as many specimens of this Crossbill
as I could desire, and on opening perhaps more than sixty, which I should
suppose enough to know their sexes, in early spring, summer, autumn and winter,
I found the young of the year in July invariably similar to the females which
had evidently laid eggs that season, excepting that they were smaller, and had
their tints duller. The males, which had either been paired or not that season,
but which, however, were older than the first (a fact easily ascertained by the
inspection of their stronger bills, legs and claws, and their stronger, harder
and tougher flesh,) shewed a considerable quantity of red mixed with yellow on
the rump, head and breast. Others having equal appearances of age were of a
dull olive-yellow, and proved to be females. In such specimens as had the bill
very much worn on its edges, and the legs and feet diseased from the adhesion of
the resinous matter of the fir trees, on which they spend most of their time,
and roost on them at night, were of a bright brick-red in certain lights,
changing alternately to carmine or vermilion, on the whole upper parts of the
body. Females bearing the same appearances of old age, were as I have
represented them in my plate.
The following note respecting this bird is from my friend Dr. T. M. BREWER.
"Among a number of eggs which I obtained from Coventry, Vermont, there was one
of the Common Crossbill, a description of which, it never having been before
procured by any naturalist, to my knowledge, and consequently never having been
described, will, I doubt not, be acceptable. It measures thirteen-sixteenths of
an inch in length, by three-eighths in breadth. At the larger end it is broadly
rounded, and the smaller end forms a complete and abrupt cone. The
ground-colour is a greenish-white, pretty thickly covered, more especially at
the large end, with very brown spots. Crossbills appeared in large flocks, in
the winter of 1832, in the pine woods near Fresh Pond, and with them two or
three White-winged Crossbills. They were very noisy, rarely quiet for many
moments at a time. Before this winter I have been told that the White-wing was
the most common, though never very abundant.
Male, 7, 10.
From Maryland eastward and northward, to lat. 52. Breeds in Pennsylvania,
New York, and the north-eastern States to Nova Scotia. Common. Migratory.
AMERICAN CROSSBILL, Curvirostra americana, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iv.p. 44.
LOXIA CURVIROSTRA, Bonap. Syn., p. 117.
COMMON CROSSBILL, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 583.
COMMON CROSSBILL, Loxia Curvirostra, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 559;vol. v. p. 511.
Bill of ordinary length, strong, convex above and beneath; mandibles
crossing each other and compressed towards the tips, which are incurvate and
acute. Nostrils small, basal, rounded, covered by the small incumbent feathers
of the forehead. The general form is compact and robust, the head and neck
large. Feet rather short, strong; tarsus short, compressed, anteriorly
scutellate, sharp behind; toes separated, the two lateral nearly equal, and
considerably shorter than the middle one; claws compressed, very acute, curved,
the hind one largest.
The plumage is blended, but rather firm. Wings of ordinary length, curved,
acute, the first and second primaries longest. Tail short, small, emarginate.
Bill brown, horn-colour on the edges, and darker at the tip. Iris hazel.
Feet dusky. The general colour of the plumage is a dull light red, inclining to
vermilion, darker on the wings. Quills and tail-feathers brownish-black; the
red colour is paler on the lower parts, and on the belly passes into whitish.
Length 7 inches, extent of wings 10; bill along the ridge 8/12; tarsus
Young Male after the first moult.
At this age the colours of the male are paler and duller, but are similarly
distributed. There is an admixture of yellow tints on the back, and more
especially on the rump.
Young Male fully fledged.
In its second plumage the young male is of a dull green colour, mixed with
brown above, greyish-yellow tinged with green beneath, the sides of the head
over the eyes greenish-yellow, and the rump and upper tail-coverts of the same
The upper parts are greyish-brown, tinged with green, the rump dull
greyish-yellow; the sides of the head and neck of the same colour as the back;
the under parts pale greyish-yellow, brighter on the fore part of the breast.
Young Female fully fledged.
The young female resembles the old one, but has less yellow on the rump and
I have carefully compared skins of the American bird with others of that
found in Scotland, but have not succeeded in detecting any differences
sufficient to indicate a specific distinction.
THE HEMLOCK SPRUCE.
PINUS CANADENSIS, Mich., Arbor. Forest., vol. i. p. 137, pl. 13.
Pursch, Fl. Amer. Sept., Vol. ii. p. 640.--MONOECIA MONADELPHIA,
The hemlock or Canadian spruce is characterized by its solitary, flat,
somewhat distichous leaves, and very small ovate terminal cones. It is one of
the most majestic and beautiful trees of the forests of the Middle States, where
it grows abundantly in certain parts, such as the Great Pine Forest, the Pocano
Mountains, &c., extending from Carolina to the extremity of Maine. The wood is
not considered equal to that of the true pines, and unless kept dry very soon
decays, but the bark is excellent for tanning. The height sometimes reaches a
hundred feet, and the diameter near the base is often six feet or more.