Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday Flowers: White Spruce Cones

White spruce is a tree native to the northern part of North America. One of Canada's widest ranging tree species, it is important commercially for lumber and pulp. It also provides food and shelter for many types of wildlife. Every two to six years a bumper crop of cones is produced ensuring the survival of the species even when the seed eaters have had their fill.

I do not know for certain, but it would seem there was a bumper crop of flowers and cones this year. I went for a walk on a cold day this week and sought shelter from the wind in a grove of spruce trees. It did not take long for me to notice that I had company as the branches were full of birds. I saw Chickadees, House Finches, and...

Common Redpolls, the first I have seen this year. They were irruptive last winter but few have been reported in the area this season.

The Redpolls were busy extracting seeds from the many cones on the trees. White spruce do not grow as tall as other conifers and their branches grow outwards even at ground level. It made bird watching much easier without having to look way up in the treetops.

After several attempts, I finally got a recognizable picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. These tiny birds seldom stay still for a second but the seeds kept them in one spot briefly.

This bird was a first for me. White-winged Crossbills are irruptive this winter and large numbers were seen during the recent Christmas bird count. Their unique crossed bill is especially designed for removing seeds from cones. There were perhaps 25 or 30 of these birds in the trees but they were spooked by my presence and I had difficulty getting pictures of them. They perched on the top of a high deciduous tree and waited for me to leave.

The males are a beautiful red colour. Lynne from Hasty Brook had wondered if the blurry picture I showed of one on Wednesday was a Pine Grosbeak. Other than the beaks, the two species do look very similar. This is only picture I got that shows the colour and the distinctive wings of the male.

The snow below the trees was covered in spruce seeds that had fallen while the birds were feeding. Nature can be extravagant in its abundance. That is a good thing as there are many cold, hungry weeks of winter ahead for the birds depending on white spruce cones for food.


  1. White-winged Crossbills!! Lucky you! I've only ever seen one of them, tee'd up at the top of a spruce. They're beautiful. I haven't seen any Redpolls here around home either. We're driving up north to Hasty Brook next week for a day and I sure hope to see some there. This is terrific white spruce info.

  2. Ah, the noble spruce tree. Muir was crazy abou t these trees.

  3. Our spruce trees are loaded with cones as well. Lovely pictures of such a nice day.

  4. Neat that you were able to get pictures of the birds eating from the cones! With the loss of our pines, the birds lost a big source of seed ... but we do still have spruce and fir.

  5. Wow Ruth, all those cool birds in the spruce trees!
    I'd better start watching the pinecones in the tops of my trees a little closer!

  6. I love to see the cones on the trees. The white spruce seems to have plenty to share. The birds amongst the trees make for such natural photographs.....tku for sharing your birds, I like to learn about the species that live in other parts of the world.......

  7. The birds must have been waiting to have their picture taken.The Cross-bills are so pretty and unique.

  8. Ruth,

    These photos are awesome. Last year we had red polls here but I haven't seen one this year. In fact there are not a lot of birds around except for sparrows, bluejays and cardinals. At least I haven't seen them but being ill, I haven't been able to walk along the canal, which is where a lot of birds hang out.

    The evergreens in this area are loaded with cones and seeds. We had a spruce tree at Christmas and it had lots of seeds on it, which made it that much more elegant.

    When hubby and I went to Princess Point last fall, the evergreens were loaded with cones and seeds. So pretty.

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos.

  9. Beautiful pictures! I enjoyed seeing all the birds.

  10. Your photos are so clear! I love your bird pics. Don't think I've seen any of those here. Thanks for sharing your walk with us.

  11. Anonymous9:33 pm GMT-5

    Some people may think that the pine cones are messy, but they don't understand the importance their role plays in nature. They provide so much for the birds not to mention the beauty I see when a thick layer of snow hangs on their branches.

    Great pictures of birds. You find so many good treasures out there.

  12. I confess--I didn't know birds ate the seeds out of pine cones. Makes sense, but I just didn't know it.
    Lovely photos.
    A great Friday "flower".

  13. Lynne- Hope you have lots to share with us from Hasty Brook!

    SG- I always preferred pine but am coming to like spruce as much.

    NCMW- It must be a bumper year

    CS- I think the spruce offer even more seeds than the pine. I bet you have Douglas fir. I love their cones.

    Ruthie- I bet you have Crossbills in your area too this winter. Keep looking!

    Cheryl- I enjoy comparing your birds and ours too. These ones are not very common in our region.

    Ruth- I took over 100 pictures for a few mediocre ones. The birds were not terrible cooperative but I enjoyed seeing them.

    Mary- I saw a very large number of Redpolls in Burlington today. Hope you are getting better.

    Rondi- Too bad they won't come to my window feeder. It's cold out there!

    Wendy- Thanks...I don't know what birds are common in your area as I just follow the Ontario birding lists. They have to be quite similar to yours in PQ.

    Cheryl- These birds were at the Linear Trail in Cambridge (Preston) It is about a 10 minute drive from your place. I will have to show it to you sometime...a great birding trail.

    KGMom- I knew the Crossbills did, but I was surprised at the other birds eating the seeds too. Perhaps they are tasty, but I haven't seen them at the store yet.

  14. Ruth, I feed the small birds and quail in the shelter of huge evergreens - hawks and eagles pick them off handily if I set feed in the open. Nice pictures.

  15. Very interesting, Ruth. I'm always learning new things from you. I'm so glad you were able to get a photo of the ruby crowned kinglet. They are so difficult to capture on camera.

  16. Anonymous9:56 pm GMT-5

    Thank you Ruth for all the information on the white spruce. We bought one for our live Christmas tree two years ago, and planted it in our backyard. I love those little cones.

  17. I'd love to see some white-winged crossbills this winter. The winter finches aren't supposed to be irruptive this winter, but there have been a bunch of sightings in the past couple weeks, so who knows. Gotta keep my eyes peeled for 'em.. thanks for sharing your experience seeing them.


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