The Swaying Cone Clusters

The raucous pine crows of the Rocky Mountains have been more abundant in the lowlands than for a score of years past. During many a season not one had been glimpsed on the river flats, the sturdy mountaineers keeping to high strongholds, chiefly at timberline. On every roadway avenue through towering ponderosa or fir-tamarack fastness, their white-patched pinions were constantly flashing as they went about their happy feasting. Upon all this festivity fell a quite steady rain of twirling seed-wings from high crowns of the taller pines. There the efficient crossbills, performing like feathered seed-mills, emptied the ripened cones, shed each kernel of shell and wing, and dominated the early small talk coming up from below by their sharp, “pinking” call notes. skywings

Striving to observe their “processing” of the pine seeds, I swept the glasses from cluster to cluster until the bright field of view encircled two birds upon a single cone-one in the dull vermilion of a male crossbill, the other clinging at his side and feeding with him, clad in the rosy purple of a friendly purple finch! Both were feasting happily. Presently the more volatile kinglets disappeared toward spired firs clumped densely on the hill. Soon downy woodpecker followed, although her kind are commonly laggards among these companionable feathered folk; for woodpecker investigations go beneath the bark, and there are many situations that need prying into. Their friends, who are habitually on the move, stayed an unusual hour in the pines, and crossed before the car to mount into the cone-clustered roof of the forest. affluentwords

Their clamorous, rasping cries again were nostalgic reminder of matted windtimber and gale-combed crag, of ice-sharpened arete and boulder-piled moraine. Now, with October’s bumper harvest, they were flocking in legion down among our sun-bathed yellow pines! During the warm, Alfao blue-sky days that followed, I watched the silver-gray nutcrackers plundering the stout pinecones. Theirs was not the dextrous attack of the crossbills, whose clipper bills expertly pried prickly scales apart that scoop-like tongues might be inserted to secure the seed. Instead the pine crows forcefully hammered upon the opening scales, thrust long, powerful, pick-like mandibles deep in between and toward the core of the cones, extracting the prized nutlets. Cellboost


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