Breeding Bird Atlas 1 Additional Accounts

White-winged Crossbill

Loxia leucoptera

The White-winged Crossbill is the most recent addition to the list of birds known to have bred in Massachusetts. Although there have been sporadic summer reports of White-winged Crossbills in western Massachusetts for a number years (Griscom & Snyder 1955, Veit & Petersen 1993), until 2001 there was never conclusive evidence of local nesting. Since crossbills are nomadic breeders throughout much of their range, the presence of individuals in summer, even flying young, makes confirmation of local nesting problematic. For example, in northern New England, positive proof of nesting was not obtained during breeding bird atlas efforts in Vermont in the 1970s (Laughlin & Kibbe 1985) and New Hampshire in the 1980s (Foss 1994), despite the fact that the species almost certainly breeds in these states, at least irregularly. Although the White-winged Crossbill is a more or less regular breeder in northern Maine (Adamus 1988), as well as an irregular breeder in the Adirondack region and Appalachian plateau of New York (Levine 1998), Massachusetts is south of the species’ regular breeding range elsewhere in North America, other than in central New York (American Ornithologist’s Union 1998).

During the summer of 2000, Whitewinged Crossbills were numerous in spruce areas in northern Berkshire County and were variously observed singing and engaging in courtship activity in the towns of Ashfield, Dalton, Savoy, and Windsor. By the winter of 2000-2001, before actual nesting confirmation was established, the continued presence of many singing and courting birds in this region provided increased optimism for a first Bay State breeding confirmation. This confirmation was finally obtained on February 22, 2001, when Geoffrey LeBaron observed a rosy male White-winged Crossbill feeding four barely able-to-fly juveniles in Windsor, Berkshire County (BOEM).

Although it is likely that small numbers of crossbills nested in the Berkshire Hills during the winter of 2000-2001, the erratic and nomadic breeding behavior of this species may cause it not to breed again in the Bay State for many years. In general this species is best characterized as an irregular winter visitor in Massachusetts, occasionally occurring in major winter invasions yet often entirely absent.