PARROT CROSSBILL (Loxia pytyopsittacus)


The parrot crossbill is a powerful, bulky finch that is the largest of the three crossbill species, common, parrot, and Scottish Crossbill. It has a characteristic, highly adapted bill that is seen on all crossbills. While it can be seen passing through areas of southwest England and the Orkney and Shetland islands, the only breeding populations are found in Scotland, with a stronghold in Abernethy forest. It favours lowland pine woodlands, especially Scots pine, which provide large cones on which to feed.

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Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 65 (2008)

Listen to Parrot Crossbill song:


Female and male parrot crossbills do not look alike, they share a thick, strong, blunt-looking bill that crosses over at the tip and a forked tail. Males have brick-red upperparts and heads, with some black markings on their cheeks, and black wings while their underparts are a light red/orange colour. Females are olive-green with black wings and a grey head, their tail is a slightly more grey colour compared to the males' black tail.

Average Length: 16-18 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 - 5 Years

Average Wingspan: 30 - 34 cm

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Parrot crossbill diet

They mainly eat conifer seeds, such as pine, which their bill has adapted perfectly for. During the breeding season, they will also eat insects and feed invertebrates to their young. They may visit garden feeders for pine seeds if you live near a population.

Parrot crossbill breeding and nesting information

Due to months with peak conifer seed abundance, parrot crossbills can begin breeding as early as December and last until June. The nest is built out of dry conifer twigs, bark, and any other material they can find and is usually placed near the trunk of conifer trees around 20m above the ground. The female lays 3-4 eggs which she incubates alone for 14-16 days, while the male provides her with food. Both parents provide the chicks with food until they fledge, and the adults will sometimes produce a second brood before the breeding season ends.

Threats to parrot crossbills

Assessing the population of parrot crossbills can be difficult due to the irruptive migration of individuals depending on food availability, so not a lot is known about their population change. As with other crossbill species, the parrot crossbill relies on conifer woodland, so the loss of mature conifer forests is likely the main driver of any declines. Climate change may also drive a reduction of pine cones, reducing the available food.

How you can help

Petition to protect conifer forests around the UK.

Provide supplementary food throughout winter to ensure there is enough food for the native population and migrants.

If you see a parrot crossbill breeding, do not report it publicly and read the guidance on the rare breeding birds panel website for how best to make a report.

Fascinating Fact

Due to its size, the parrot crossbill can exploit pine cones that have not opened yet, meaning it can start breeding earlier than our other crossbill species.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Loxia pytyopsittacus. Downloaded from Accessed: 13/09/2023.

British trust for ornithology (2023) Parrot crossbill | BTO - British trust for ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 13/09/2023.

Harvey, J. E., Smiljanić, M., Scharnweber, T., Buras, A., Cedro, A., Cruz-García, R., Drobyshev, I., Janecka, K., Jansons, Ā., Kaczka, R., Klisz, M., Läänelaid, A., Matisons, R., Muffler, L., Sohar, K., Spyt, B., Stolz, J., van der Maaten, E., van der Maaten-Theunissen, M., … Wilmking, M. (2020). Tree growth influenced by warming winter climate and summer moisture availability in northern temperate forests. Global Change Biology, 26(4), 2505–2518.

Mezquida, E. T., Svenning, J. C., Summers, R. W., & Benkman, C. W. (2018). Higher spring temperatures increase food scarcity and limit the current and future distributions of crossbills. Diversity and Distributions, 24(4), 473–484.

RSPB (2023) Parrot crossbill bird facts: Loxia Pytyopstittacus, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 13/09/2023.

Summers, R. W., Dawson, R. J. G., & Proctor, R. (2010). Temporal variation in breeding and cone size selection by three species of crossbills Loxia spp. in a native Scots pinewood. Journal of Avian Biology, 41(3), 219–228.

Summers, R. W., & Gillmor, R. (2002). Parrot Crossbills breeding in Abernethy Forest, Highland. British Birds. 95:4-11.

Summers, R. W., Jardine, D. C., Marquiss, M., & Rae, R. (2002). The distribution and habitats of crossbills Loxia spp. in Britain, with special reference to the Scottish Crossbill Loxia scotica. Ibis, 144(3), 393–410.

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