Forest in Spring

We can’t think of a better way to kick off the start of spring here in Black Rock Forest. Here’s a report from Dmitriy Aronov, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Stephanie Hale, Research Staff Associate at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Columbia University.

From Dmitriy:

“Today Steph and I made probably the most exciting bird discovery in our years of working at the Forest. We found a pair of Red Crossbills feeding in the pine/spruce grove above the Stone House!

Red Crossbills are boreal conifer specialists. They are not supposed to be here, except in the dead of winter on very rare years, when the cone crop up in Canada fails (right now is not such a year). Ours is one of the first springtime observations of this species in Orange County, that we know of.

What’s REALLY exciting is that the behavior was very suspicious. It was a pair, and the male was closely following the female around the grove. 

We suspect they might be trying to breed here! Those spruces are overloaded with cones right now. Tamarack Pond is at a high elevation and is colder than the rest of the Forest, so conditions might be perfect for them. For example, at higher elevations in the Appalachians there are small pockets where they’ve been known to breed, even south of us.”

While the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) is on our species list, it’s listed as rare and present only in winter. A potential breeding pair in the Forest would be a huge first for us, considering no one on staff has ever seen one here. As the name suggests, the Red Crossbill have an upper and lower mandible that cross in opposite directions. Their bills are specialized for different species of conifers, so Crossbill populations in different parts of the world have evolved different shapes and sizes. This adaptation makes them extremely efficient at extracting seeds from conifers, but also dependent on these trees to survive. These birds are unique in many ways including their nomadic lifestyle, breeding season, and variation within the species itself.