- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular but erratic breeding resident, migrant, and winter visitant.
The White-winged Crossbill has a highly variable breeding distribution in Canada and many of the states in the northern parts of the United States, plus scattered areas of the Rocky Mountains (Figure 1). Some of the highest recorded densities have been in northern Manitoba, southwestern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia, and Labrador. A subspecies (L. l. bifasciata) occurs throughout the Palearctic region from northern Scandinavia to Siberia.
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 7/20 by Partners in Flight.
Permanent resident, nomadic.
Seeds of spruce, tamarack, and occasionally balsam fir; invertebrates and seeds of many plant species in summer.
Cup-nest, mostly in spruce tree away from trunk.
The White-winged Crossbill is found primarily in the coniferous zone of north-central and northern Minnesota (Roberts 1932). In contrast to the Red Crossbill, Roberts never reported it during the summer in the southern counties of the state. Also no nests were reported, though he stated that it “unquestionably breeds commonly in many localities.” He included an observation by Surber of “parents feeding full-fledged young out of nest” on August 8, 1922, in Cook County.
Roberts documented its distribution as north and northeastward from northern Isanti County west to Wadena and Roseau Counties. Several observers noted that it was “common in Itasca County”; extremely abundant from June 20 through July 1901, at Hibbing, St. Louis County;” and “common on the Iron Range about Hibbing, Virginia, Biwabik, and Wolf” in the early 1900s.
More than 40 years later, Green and Janssen (1975) still labeled it as “a very scarce resident in the northern coniferous forests.” No nests had been found by the early 1970s, but fully fledged young being fed by adults were observed in Clearwater, Cook, and St. Louis Counties. After 1970, few data were added by Janssen (1987), except the first summer record of the White-winged Crossbill in Minnesota found at Luverne in Rock County on July 5, 1975. The first confirmed nest in the state was discovered by a young birder, Jacob Langeslag, in March 1996. Documented in detail by Little and Langeslag (1996), the nest was found, surprisingly, in Rice County in southeastern Minnesota.
The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) recorded breeding season locations from six counties, including eastern Marshall and northwestern Hubbard Counties (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). The majority of observations were from Cook (7 locations), Itasca (>15), Lake (6), and St. Louis (6) Counties.
In contrast with the MBS, the MNBBA included 28 records with a breeding distribution that was quite different, largely because the MBS had not yet covered northern Beltrami, Koochiching, or Lake of the Woods Counties (Figure 2). Nesting was confirmed in Roseau County, a new county record and only the third known nesting record for the state. The MNBBA also recorded one probable nesting in Lake County and 25 possible nesting locations. These included 3 blocks in northern Beltrami County, 5 in Cook County, 1 in Itasca County, 4 in Koochiching County, 7 in Lake County, and 2 in St. Louis County (Figure 3; Table 1).
Benkman (2012), in his review of the White-winged Crossbill in North America, provided no perspective on historical changes to its North American distribution. This was mainly because of the lack of solid observational or nesting data. There also is no basis to suggest the distribution of this species in Minnesota has changed appreciably over the past 150 years.
Robbins (1991) cited one nesting record from Oconto County, Wisconsin, in 1894 and otherwise labeled the White-winged Crossbill as a “rare summer resident north.” Cutright et al. (2006) had seven quads with confirmed nesting during the Wisconsin breeding bird atlas from 1995 to 2000, including one nest, the first in the twentieth century. Similar results were reported by Brewer et al. (1991) in Michigan, where there were 2 historical nesting records from 1891 and 1941 in the western Upper Peninsula. Michigan’s atlas from 1983 to 1988 also revealed 2 nesting records from the western Upper Peninsula. Ontario’s atlas reported that knowledge of the breeding distribution of the White-winged Crossbill was poorly known before its first atlas in 1981–1985 (Cadman et al. 2007). They subsequently reported that the White-winged Crossbill had a broad distribution of observations from the northern regions of the province. During Ontario’s second atlas, in 2001–2005, they found the distribution had not changed, but substantially more evidence of breeding was identified. They attributed this to better identification skills by observers and to widespread and frequent irruptions that occurred during the second atlas period.
Robbins (1991) points out the potential problem with its identification by stating, “Anyone who does not recognize the call note is bound to find the White-winged Crossbill rare.” Data from the second atlas in Ontario provided some evidence for problems with identification, especially by call notes, as the species flies overhead, but phases of its irruptions complicate this issue in Ontario. Nevertheless, the White-winged Crossbill is known to be almost motionless while feeding on cones on the top of trees, and to vocalize only when leaving the tree where it was foraging. Hence, historically and today, the species may be easily overlooked.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.