Monday, January 20, 2020

Red Crossbill

While visiting Kaliningrad Oblast we drove out to the Curonian Spit which borders on the Baltic Sea. There we visited the Rybachy Biological Station which is run by the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. It employs 10 biologists and other employees and undergraduate and graduate students. It was established in 1957 and studies migrating birds. They have a huge trap like a fishing trawl on land with a wide and tall open end and surrounded by netting. 

Because it is so large, birds don't perceive it as dangerous and fly in and get caught in the netting at the back. They can catch several thousand birds in a day and annually catch 30,000 to 40,000 birds. They weigh each bird, band it, record the sex and health and date and then release it. It is open from April 1 to November 1 each year and have cataloged 3 million birds of 200 different species. 

We were shown the area by a biologist and then taken to a little cabin where some birds were shown to us. Our guide got us in the cabin behind the biologist. 
The biologist shows a small yellow breasted bird.
One of the birds the biologist picked up was a red crossbill, also known as a common crossbill in Eurasia. Crossbills have distinctive bills (mandibles) which cross at the tip and give them leverage to extract seeds from conifer cones. Males tend to be red or orange and females green or yellow, but there is great variation. The crossbill the biologist was holding was female with a green coloration. 
Red crossbill

The biologist pulled out another small bird with a yellow underside and a black eye stripe that I have not been able to identify yet. 
Most fun was a bat that they'd caught the night before. He held it up for all to see and indicated they would release it that night. 


  1. This was a highlight of the drive on the spit. It was so fun to see how they catch the birds, and a real privilege to be in the cabin with the biologist.

  2. Very interesting how they catch them in plain sight.