White-winged Crossbills Eating Alder Seeds

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These White-winged Crossbills at Ashbridges Bay Park in Toronto were feeding on alder (Alnus) seeds from the cone-like female catkins. The crossbills fed on the ground under a stand of 12 European Alders. Many catkins were on the ground in the leaf litter, probably brought down by an ice storm earlier in the winter, then covered with snow, and now exposed by the recent thaw.

Male White-winged Crossbill grasps European Alder female catkin with feet so that it can extract the seeds. 14 February 2009.

Male White-winged Crossbill eating small reddish seeds from inside the catkins.


Female-type White-winged Crossbill feeding on European Alder catkins. 14 February 2009.


Female White-winged Crossbill grasps female alder catkins so that it can pry out the seeds. 14 February 2009.


The crossbills fed mostly on the ground, but a few times they ate in the alders. 14 February 2009.


There were several White Spruce and European Larch with cones nearby. The crossbills probed and fed briefly on their cones, but returned quickly to the alder catkins. The spruce cones are probably now almost empty of seeds. These White-winged Crossbills apparently were feeding on alders because it is easier to get alder seeds than conifer cones in this area. As the winter advances, crossbills will become more food stressed.