Scottish crossbill, pair at nest

Climate change and crossbills

The Scottish crossbill is synonymous with the Scots pine forest.

What is happening?

This stocky bird manipulates pine cones with its heavy crossbill to pull out the seeds, and builds bulky nests of twigs, heather and moss in the branches of Scots pine trees. Visitors to the forest can hear the 'chup chup' call of Scottish crossbill flocks crescendo as the birds move through the forest.

The Scottish crossbill is also becoming a symbol of Scotland's climate future. Researchers from the RSPB and Durham University have looked at how the UK's climate is likely to change this century and have modelled how the distribution of the Europe's breeding birds are likely to change in response. Alarmingly, they have found that climate conditions for the Scottish crossbill could disappear.

The RSPB's Dr Rhys Green said: 'The climate in the Scottish crossbill's present range is expected to have changed substantially by the end of this century. [By then] similar climate will be found only in Iceland. It seems unlikely that Scottish crossbills will move there. If they do not, then they will need to adapt to conditions they have not recently experienced.'

What are we doing about it?

The RSPB is working hard to tackle climate change, so that it's more likely that Scottish crossbills and other birds of the moors and mountains will continue to enjoy their current climate. That's why we are congratulating the Scottish Government on its proposals to cut Scotland's emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and why we've been calling for similar climate change targets for the whole of the UK.

The RSPB is also working hard – with our members' support – to improve habitats for birds like the Scottish crossbill, so that the species will have a better chance of surviving in Scotland even as some further warming occurs.

The RSPB's nature reserve at Abernethy, Highland is a fantastic example of how we're conserving and restoring an area of the Caledonian Pine Forest. This ancient habitat once covered a large swathe of the Highlands but has now been reduced to a mere 1 percent of its former extent.

The RSPB's habitat restoration work is creating homes for many pine forest species including capercaillie, crested tits and red squirrels. Our work here also gives the Scottish crossbill a better chance of future survival in Scotland because expanding its pine forest habitat makes the habitat more resilient to changing climate conditions.

We are calling on the Scottish Government to strengthen its Climate Change Bill so that Scotland's wildlife will have a fighting chance against climate change. We are calling for immediate resources and a strategy from the Scottish Government to help wildlife adapt.

Caledonian pine forest swathed in early morning mist Scotland