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Young birds of the year are now into the moult, the earliest having been born late February. Old birds may still be breeding but many start to moult in early July, effectively finishing the breeding season. I normally do not colour feed my young birds preferring to see them in natural colour the first year. Adult cocks however are given Carophyll Red in their drinking water which brings out their red coloration to perfection. I do not colour feed my hens, preferring their natural green colour. I inspect my birds legs at this time when transferring stock between flights and if necessary treat any 'thickening symptoms', especially in older birds, with Benzyl Benzoate. Feeding in July includes fresh cones and branches from larch and pine, also wild grasses and weed seeding heads of all descriptions, which are now available in abundance.


The annual moult is now well underway and care should be taken to watch for any signs of illness in young birds. "Going Light" is not a major problem and can be treated as with other finches. Berries become available at the end of this month and Rowan berries in particular are enjoyed by my birds. Many other types can be offered and add variety to my birds diet, while also assisting plumage colour.


A quiet month with plenty of wild seeding grasses and heads available. Also a good month for collecting pine cones for use during the shorter days of winter when daylight hours are not available for trips into the countryside. Pine cones are stored, once dry, in plastic buckets for use as required. This is a good month to collect nesting material and lay it aside for the breeding season. Dried grasses, birch twigs, mosses and lichens are collected. These are stored, when dry, in cardboard boxes.


Young birds should now be fully moulted and can be assessed for future breeding requirements. The type and colour plus beak shape is important and will decide next years pairings. Young birds are now housed in single sex groups until I decide on pairings to prevent bonding between individuals. Old established pairs are not parted and remain together for the following breeding season. Should a pair be split it is often difficult to form a new pair bond and care has to be taken to avoid potential fighting between the new partners, if the old partner can still be seen or heard.


During this month only selected pairs remain and it is a relatively quiet month in the Crossbill year. The birds are building up their strength after the moult in readiness for the next breeding season.


Final pairings are now made in readiness for the forthcoming breeding season.
Legs are inspected again and treated as necessary and toe nails cut as required. Pairs may already be in their breeding flights, although no nesting sites are yet provided


Pairs must be in there breeding aviaries this month. In the early part of the month pine branches are collected and the flights are made ready with nest baskets, shelves and new branches from Scots Pine, which is readily available in Scotland.
Pine and Larch cones and soaked seed are now given and assist the pairs in reaching top condition for breeding. As usual a plentiful supply of fresh grit, mineral mix, crushed eggshells, charcoal and cuttlefish bone is on offer.


Hemp is added to the diet of my birds this month, fed separately to allow the amount being eaten, to be monitored. This seed is also soaked for 24 hours and then thoroughly washed, for use when chicks hatch. The first eggs are usually laid at the beginning of this month and the first youngsters of the year are in the nest by the end of the month.


All the efforts of the year are now hopefully being rewarded with chicks leaving the nest by mid to late, March. Hens usually go to nest again by the end of the month and continue in some cases until June. This is a busy time and regular feeding has to be maintained, as daylight hours are still short. Temperatures can also be below freezing, but chicks are quite capable of surviving low temperatures for short periods. Hens return and brood them until revived and able to be fed. This can be a difficult time for the bird keeper new to this specialised bird. Many are concerned to see the Hen off the nest and chicks looking as though they have been deserted. All however is usually well.
By the end of March buds appear on the bare Larch branches and these are collected and enjoyed by my birds. A South facing Larch plantation usually yields a good crop and they can be stored in water to keep them fresh, as with a bunch of flowers.


Larch branches are now in full leaf and provide a readily taken food source, especially the flowers. First round chicks can be left in large flights with their parents but I normally remove them to an adjacent aviary. They can take five to six weeks to become self-supporting and need to be carefully watched when first removed to ensure they are eating properly. They are best housed as groups of the same sex, if possible, as young cock birds are easily sexed by their yellow throat collars. This method of sexing young birds has proved very useful.


A very similar month to April, with the addition of wildfood in the form of chickweed, dandelion and milk thistle.


A third round of chicks may be in the nest but I normally stop breeding operations by the end of this month, assuming sufficient chicks have been reared. Most adults begin to moult by the end of June. Ceasing breeding in June allows them to build up stamina for this annual event. Crossbills however have been known to nest in every month of the year.

The end of another 12 months.

Ron Phillips



1. 1. 2009



1. 1. 2009