Family Finches (Fringillidae)

Least Concern

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)


French: Bec-croisé des sapins German: Fichtenkreuzschnabel Spanish: Piquituerto Común
Other common names: Common Crossbill, South Hills Crossbill ("L. sinesciuris")

Loxia curvirostra


, 1758,



Forms a species group with L. scotica and L. pytyopsittacus, and all have sometimes been considered conspecific. Taxonomy highly complicated and largely unresolved, requires much further study; recent genetic studies indicate limited differences between the three in Europe, indicating that they are not in total reproductive isolation, but extent of hybridization slight, and differences in bill size and in flight and excitement calls considered sufficient to restrict widespread interbreeding. Has apparently hybridized too with Carduelis pinus. In W Palearctic, geographical variation rather slight and clinal (nominate race becomes paler, brighter and larger from W to E, and within Europe brighter from N to S), and some races intergrade with others across wide areas, also considerable degree of individual variation; some races listed below possibly synonymous with more widespread ones, e.g. guillemardi perhaps better merged with nominate; further, several named races, e.g. hispana (described from near Murcia, in SE Spain), mariae (from Crimea), vasvarii (NW Turkey), caucasia (Caucasus) and ermaki (N Altai), proposed on basis of very slight differences or show intermediate characters; conversely, some other populations possibly merit subspecific recognition. Situation in E Palearctic and S Asia not yet investigated. In North America, numerous attempts made to classify populations of this species N of Mexican border into discrete races, with distinct and non-overlapping breeding ranges; described races reai (from Idaho) and vividior (from Colorado) may merit recognition, but present position complicated by identification of eight discrete types of flight call (across USA and W Canada) allied to other distinctive vocal characteristics (detectable through sonagrams) and morphological differences (mainly bill size or shape, and plumage colour) which may form basis for reproductive isolation of these taxa variously considered "cryptic species" or "pseudospecies"; studies reveal that crossbills appear to preserve their identity through specialization on particular species of conifer; in 2009, a newly discovered form from Idaho was proposed as a species, "L. sinesciuris" (see Family Text), on basis of small morphological and vocal differences developed largely because of absence of competition for pine (Pinus) cones from squirrels (Sciuridae). Similar work in W Europe identified six vocal types, with some degree of assortative breeding and considerable overlap in area; in more recent study in W Mediterranean, however, a further six vocal types were described, thus placing some doubt on taxonomic value of these types. Further research required, especially as multiple vocal types now known to exist within crossbill populations, and adaptation to respective resource may be more appropriate explanation. Race pusilla has sometimes been listed as "percna". Nineteen subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • L. c. curvirostra Linnaeus, 1758 – W, C & N Europe from British Is and Scandinavia E through Siberia to E Russia (N Amurland), S to N Spain, C Italy, Greece, Belarus, N Ukraine, N Kazakhstan, Sayan Mts and N Mongolia.
  • L. c. balearica (Homeyer, 1862) – C & S Spain and Balearic Is.
  • L. c. corsicana Tschusi, 1912 – Corsica.
  • L. c. poliogyna Whitaker, 1898 – NE Morocco, N Algeria and N Tunisia; also (possibly this race) S Italy and Sicily.
  • L. c. guillemardi Madarász, 1903 – E Balkans, Turkey, Cyprus, S Ukraine and Caucasus.
  • L. c. japonica Ridgway, 1884 – extreme SE Russia (Ussuriland), Sakhaklin I, S Kuril Is, N & C Japan (Hokkaido, N, C & W Honshu), NE & E China (Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang S to Jiangsu) and N Korea; winters S to EC China (S Shaanxi E to Jiangsu) and S Japan.
  • L. c. altaiensis Sushkin, 1925 – NE Kazakhstan, S Russia (C & S Altai Mts, Sayan Mts, and Tuva) and W & N Mongolia.
  • L. c. tianschanica Laubmann, 1927 – SE Kazakhstan S to Tajikistan, and NW China (NW Xinjiang); winters to NW & N China.
  • L. c. himalayensis Blyth, 1845 – Himalayas from N India (Himachal Pradesh) E to Bhutan, S Tibetan Plateau (S & E Xizang) and S China (S Qinghai and Gansu S to NW Yunnan and W Sichuan); winters S to N Myanmar.
  • L. c. meridionalis Robinson & Kloss, 1919 – S Vietnam (S Annam).
  • L. c. luzoniensis Ogilvie-Grant, 1894 – N & W Luzon (Cordillera Mts and Zambales Mts), in N Philippines.
  • L. c. sitkensis Grinnell, 1909 – S & SE Alaska, coastal W Canada and W USA (S to NW California); winters S to S Canada and SW USA.
  • L. c. bendirei Ridgway, 1884 – SW Canada (S Yukon and C British Columbia E to SW Saskatchewan) and NW USA (S to Wyoming); winters S to S USA.
  • L. c. minor (C. L. Brehm, 1846) – SE Canada (Ontario E to Nova Scotia) and NE USA; winters S to EC USA.
  • L. c. pusilla Gloger, 1834 – E Canada (Newfoundland); winters S to NE USA.
  • L. c. benti Griscom, 1937 – C Rocky Mts, in WC USA.
  • L. c. grinnelli Griscom, 1937 – California and Nevada, in SW USA; occasionally winters S to Arizona and NW Mexico.
  • L. c. stricklandi Ridgway, 1885 – S USA (Arizona and New Mexico) S to S Mexico, possibly also Belize.
  • L. c. mesamericana Griscom, 1937 – Guatemala and Belize S to N Nicaragua.
  • Descriptive notes

    14–20 cm; 23–53 g. Medium-large finch with large head, plump body, short legs and short, forked tail; distinctive large broad-based bill with pointed mandibles... read more


    Most frequent call hard high-pitched "chip" or "chip chip", given with varying... read more


    Lowland to submontane conifer forests and woodlands. In Palearctic, N populations mostly in taiga... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly seeds, buds and shoots of trees and plants; also some insects and larvae, and other invertebrates. Seeds and buds include those of... read more


    Season determined largely by food abundance, in N & C Europe Aug–Apr/May but most in Jan–May (breeding recorded all months... read more


    Resident and partial migrant, also frequently irruptive and nomadic in non-breeding season. Island... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to locally common, erratically or occasionally irruptive and abundant; some populations apparently cyclic in abundance; uncommon to rare in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Clement, P. & Christie, D.A. (2017). Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 24 January 2017).