Starving Common Crossbills try to eat anything
In late June and early
July 2009 there was a noticable movement of Common Crossbills which saw
them turning up in the Shetland Isles and on a number of offshore
installations and vessels in the North and Norwgian Sea. Many of the birds that
landed on the vessel I was working on seemed to be in good
form and quickly moved on.
Crossbills are nomadic rather than migratory and such summer movements
are quite normal. However, having them turn up onboard under seemingly
ideal migration conditions was something of a surprise. Usually it
takes some wind and rain to force migrants down onto offshore platforms
- or indeed to make them lose their way. One can only assume that these
birds had already flown a long way before turning up on the back deck
of an offshore survey and construction vessel on the Ormen Lange field
north west of Kristiansund on the west coast of Norway.
Male Common Crossbill
eats welding slag
Both the male and female sat like this for long periods with nictating
membrane closed but eye open giving them a somewhat spooky look.
The first birds,
an apparently moribund pair, turned up on 26th June. These birds were eating
welding slag after a recent mobilisation. They also engaged in
behaviour I have never witnessed before: the female appeared to feed
the male with some presumeably regurgitated food.
Another thing this pair did was sit with their nictating membrane (i.e.
"eyelid") shut. This may have been a response to the very strong
sunlight, glare from the sea and strong reflections from the white
superstructure of the vessel.
male Common Crossbill
One of the males that turned up the next day
Over the next several
days more Crossbills arrived onboard, usually singly or in pairs but on
one occasion a flock of seven were watched feeding in the netting of
the gangway which was stored on deck. The birds foraged
actively pulling out bits of fibre and other things from rope ends and
the like. Whether or not they found anything edible remains a mystery
(there were some insects onboard which could conceivably been
sheltering in amoung the ropes)
don't just eat the seeds of pine cones is well documented but I have
never seen this level of desparation before.
Some birds did actually eat more normal stuff - crumbs fed to them by
crew members who were out sunbathing in the fantastic weather.
in the rigging...
eat things other than pine cones is well documented but I have not seen
this level of desparation before...
For pictures of Common Crossbills under more normal circumstances click
For more about the birdlife at Ormen Lange click here.
A Canon 400 DSLR and a 400mm telephoto lens was used for all pictures on this page.