A bird that specializes in feeding on the seeds buried in pine cones has to have a nifty trick for extracting them, like a beak that works like a pry bar. In the Common (or Red) Crossbills, the two mandibles that make up the beak do not meet at the tip, but cross over one another. When the bird bites down between the scales of a pine cone, the tips of the mandibles push the scale open and the bird extracts the seed with its tongue.
Strong legs and feet grip the cone as the bird works the scales open with its beak, curling its body around the cone and twisting its head to apply further pressure.
Cone seeds make up most of a Crossbill’s diet, and they feed the seeds to their chicks as well. As a result, Crossbills can breed and raise chicks any time there is a big enough cone crop, even during cold winters. Young Crossbills, however, do not have crossed bills, but only develop them as they begin feeding on the cones themselves, about 45 days after hatching.
Crossbills usually feed on the cones high in the tree, but this bird must have been pretty hungry because it fed at eye-level for several minutes, completely ignoring the group of photographers honing in on the action. (Photos above by Steve Chaplin)