Never before has a female White-winged Crossbill been spotted in Iceland, being the second of its kind after the male which was spotted in the Reykjanes Peninsula last autumn. Here in our garden, where there are vigilant eyes, this beautiful American vagrant was eating sun-flower seeds with Common Crossbills and Redpolls.
The White-winged Crossbill is a sub-species of the Europe one, called Two-barred Crossbill, which is also a rarity having only been spotted once in Iceland.
The White-winged Crossbills are finches, rather large ones, and their breeding area is in conifer forests across the northernmost areas of United States, Canada and Alaska. Their bills are especially adapted to getting the seed from conifer cones which is almost their only food source. They are not migrators but if food is scarce they may go with groups of Common Crossbills. They are smaller than the Common Crossbill and stand out with two white wing bars which give them their name.
A rare North American vagrant has been the number one diversion for Icelandic birders in the past week. This is the second time that a White-winged Crossbill is spotted here but the first time that a bird of Western Palearctic origin is recorded, the North American subspecies. It was first seen in a small forest clearing called Sólbrekka, near the Blue Lagoon in Reykjanes Peninsula. It is still there and has been since November 8. It is now with a group of Common Crossbills and seems delighted in their company. The females especially seem to have taken a liking to this brightly coloured foreigner.
The American White-winged Crossbill is a breeding bird in the conifer forests of North America and well adapted to severe frosts. However, the White-winged Crossbill that was first spotted here in 2009 in East Iceland was of North Scandinavian/Siberian origin.