Yesterday was a very busy day at my little bird feeder. For about 45 minutes there was an incredible amount of activity in the yard. But before I saw all the birds, I noticed seeds falling from the pine trees.
Pine tree seeds are pretty small.
Most folks have never actually seen a seed from a pine tree since by the time the cones fall to the ground the seeds have already been eaten by birds or scattered by the wind. The papery enclosure around the seed sends it drifting along with the breeze, making sure the seed falls at least a short distance from the parent tree (that’s another adaptation!).
Since the wind wasn’t blowing for once, I went outside to see why the seeds were falling out of the cones and this is what I found:
A flock of red crossbills was making short work of the pine seeds.
I’ve never seen crossbills in my yard before so this was exciting! There were both red and white-winged crossbills, chickadees, a common redpoll and American goldfinches in their winter garb.
American goldfinches eating the seeds from the echinacea and gayfeather.
This was perfect because it ties right in with another post about adaptations! If you closely observe different bird species, you’ll notice they each have different shapes of bills. This is due to the food they eat. Raptors, like eagles and hawks, have sharp, thick bills designed for tearing meat. Finches have seed cracking bills. Mallards have straining bills that filter the water away from the aquatic plants and small bugs they enjoy. Great blue herons have long bills to spear frogs and fish in wetlands.
Crossbills are unique in the bird world as the tips of their bills actually are crossed, just like when you cross your fingers. This enables them to pry out seeds that are hiding deep in the scales of the cones.
Today, a crossbill crashed into my living room window. It took him several minutes to get his wits about him, but I was able to get some photos of him before he flew.
This red crossbill had a hard time recovering from his collision with the window.
Look closely at his beak and you’ll see how it crosses.
Check out that beak!
Here’s a great game to play to help your kids understand how bird beaks are adapted to the food they eat.
Using an egg carton, place different types of bird “food” in each section. You can use rice, popcorn, sunflower seeds, orange slices, gummy worms, water, honey, goldfish crackers, grapes, oatmeal, etc. Give each child a variety of “bills” to use to pick up each type of food. Use tweezers, spoons, straining spoons, chopsticks, nutcrackers, eyedroppers, etc. Record your progress in your nature notebook or journal.
Some bills should be better able to pick up certain foods. The eyedropper will be best at getting the water or honey, while the tweezers will be good at getting the individual grains of rice or oatmeal. Look at photos of different types of birds and discuss what food their bill is adapted for eating.