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Scottish Crossbill, presumably (1 Viewer)

Arbu

Well-known member
Seen a few miles out of Aviemore, last Thursday.

So can I take it that these are Scottish Crossbill? The bills are quite chunky and the adult female in the first picture does have something of a "bull" head. They seemed to be peeling bark off the tree they were in, which seemed unusual behaviour for crossbills to me.

More photos available if they would help.
 

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THE_FERN

Well-known member
Absolutely certain. If I were you, I'd shoot it and designate it the neotype.

[sorry! I grew up wanting to see Scottish crossbill. Now I don't really believe they exist. I'm persuaded the taxonomy is invalid because supposedly the only way to distinguish this from other crossbills is on call type. The specimen called "scotica" has no recording attached... (so could be anything)]

Edit: but all crossbills are super-cool and interesting whatever they be. Quite likely these are of the "parrot" morph given how massive the bills are. Again parrot and "common" and "Scottish" are all basically the same thing afaik
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
Just to add: this really opens up the question "what is a species". Just because things haven't diverged genetically yet doesn't mean that they aren't effectively behaving as biological species. Differences in behaviour or food source might make them effectively reproductively isolated for example. And that's to ignore all the other species concepts out there.

In the Scottish Crossbill example in particular, I [personally] think the evidence that it's different is very weak. From what I've read, evidence for Cassia etc is stronger. Ultimately, whether something's a species or not is up to you. A big problem w Scottish crossbill isn't so much whether it's a species as much as how on earth you can recognise one when you see it. I'm pretty unconvinced it's different by almost any criteria.
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
omg how many scientists have worked on this? It's interesting that crossbills change their calls to match those of their partners. I definitely don't think that Scottish are a different species based on all that. But, to the extent that they exist, I've seen them.
Well yes. But as I noted, parrot crossbills are in the same area. Your photos look more like that to me
 

Arbu

Well-known member
Well yes. But as I noted, parrot crossbills are in the same area. Your photos look more like that to me
Why? Collins says of Parrot "lower edge of lower mandible S-shaped, with parrot-like bulge in middle. Tip of lower mandible usually not visible beyond culmen in profile." I can't see any parrot-like bulges, and in the lower bird in the second photo the tip of the lower mandible is clearly visible beyond the culmen. I have to admit, though, that these birds were big, like Hawfinches.
 
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Arbu

Well-known member
I saw some crossbill in the forest below Ben Wyvis in July this year, and certainly they seemed smaller than the birds in Aviemore. But I took them to be Common Crossbill.
 

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THE_FERN

Well-known member
Why? Collins says of Parrot "lower edge of lower mandible S-shaped, with parrot-like bulge in middle. Tip of lower mandible usually not visible beyond culmen in profile." I can't see any parrot-like bulges, and in the lower bird in the second photo the tip of the lower mandible is clearly visible beyond the culmen. I have to admit, though, that these birds were big, like Hawfinches.
Someone else can put me right but my understanding is that all 3 forms are present in the area. I think the Collins criteria are simplistic and the size and shape of these bills matches what others have id'd as parrot in the past on this forum. In contrast, what people have called "Scottish" crossbills have tended to have smaller bills than this. I think you'd probably need recordings and the ability to make "nice" distinctions to be sure. At the end of the day, your photo, your choice ...
 

Arbu

Well-known member
ebird records certainly show all three forms in the area. I suppose it could be that the Collins criteria apply for adults but not juveniles, as it takes time for the bill to fully develop. Maybe next time I'll get my phone out and make a recording.
 

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
Unless you get a common at the small end of the scale, or a parrot at the large end, it's really not very safe identifying any crossbills in Scottish range without calls. There's a nice bit of help here: Identification of Scottish and Parrot Crossbills

The following line taken from that link is most pertinent here... (bold bits are my highlights) 'Though structural features are useful, it is now understood that calls, particularly so-called ‘excitement calls’, are crucial to allow safe separation of the three species, particularly in areas where they can be found breeding sympatrically, such as on the mainland (Summers et al. 2007).'
 

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