Sunday, March 15, 2009

Life List - 76

Liberty Park in Salt Lake City is rapidly becoming one of my favorite spots for urban birding. Though it is in the middle of the state's largest metropolitan area, it is a refuge for many bird species with its mature trees, lake, open spaces, natural plants, and other attractive features, not to mention being the home of Tracy Aviary. Today on a leisurely walk -- after feeding a stale loaf of bread to the mixed flock of California gulls and ring billed gulls -- we ventured down a path lined with pine trees and soon came to a dangerous area of falling cones and other projectiles. Out came the binoculars and field guide, and the culprits were soon identified: red crossbills.

The name red crossbills aptly describes the male birds, who indeed resemble a strongly colored red house finch with a peculiar bill shape with curved, crossed tips. The female birds are yellow instead of red but they share the crossed bill characteristic, which I was fortunate enough to see. Take care standing beneath these birds, however. While there are always good reasons not to stand underneath birds, when the red crossbills are feeding they are clumsy and falling pine cones are plentiful. They use their specialized bills to dig deeply into the cones and extract the seeds, but they're just as likely to drop the cone onto unwary birders as they are to enjoy a tasty morsel.

As exciting as it is to add another postively identified species to my life list, it is also a joy to be in any location with as much birding life. Black capped chickadees, Canada geese, mallards, and gulls are all regular residents in Liberty Park, and I hope to become an even more frequent guest to their backyard, even as all birds are welcome to become guests in mine.

4 comments:

Sparverius said...

Where in the park did you see the crossbills? This is one bird I keep missing, and would love a chance to see them.

Melissa said...

Hi Sparverius - If you park next to the lake, walk over the big hill on the north end and you'll see a bunch of paths. The path we took led right through a grove of those huge pines almost straight north, and they were flitting about in a few of the trees. With lots of mature cones, I'm sure they'll stick around for awhile. Happy birding!

Sparverius said...

Thanks for the tip. I went, and wasn't disappointed. I did walk around for quite a while, and was on my back to my car, when there they were! Sweet!

The next day, at work up in Midway, I had three white-winged crossbills come to the feeder area under the pines. That was a treat!

Melissa said...

Wonderful! I'm glad you were able to spot them. I'd love to see the white-wings! Ah, for more birding...