Red Crossbills, a nomadic bird species of northern coniferous forests, have been reported from west central Minnesota recently. They have been seen in 12 counties — Grant, Stevens, Pope, Becker, Big Stone, Lac Qui Parle, Yellow Medicine, Swift, Kandiyohi, Chippewa, Wilkin, and Sibley. The latter is as close to the Twin Cities as the reports get. Sibley is two counties to the southwest of the metro area. Kandiyohi is three counties west, straight out Highway 12.
The birds move to find food, feeding almost exclusively on conifer seeds. They move in flocks large and small, the latter describing Minnesota sightings.
Red Crossbills are more usually found in northeastern Minnesota, on an erratic basis. There are few nesting records. The birds will nest at almost any time of year if sufficient food is available.
A birder in South Dakota reported on email of a possible failure of the ponderosa pine seed crop in the Rocky Mountains. This might explain the birds’ movement. Reports of sightings also have come from South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska.
West central Minnesota has more beans and corn than coniferous trees. Birders are looking at decorative plantings of spruce and other conifer species -- in cemeteries.
If the birds are moving east to find seeds, we might see other western species here this winter. Maybe.