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Red Crossbill, percna subspecies

Recovery Strategy for the Red Crossbill,

percna subspecies

(Loxia curvirostra percna),

in Canada

Red Crossbill

October 2006

About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)? 

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003, and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.” 

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk.  Sections 37–46 of SARA ( outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.  Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more 

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA PublicRegistry ( the Web site of the Recovery Secretariat    (

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2006. Recovery Strategy for the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies (Loxia curvirostra percna), in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vii + 29 pp.

 Additional copies:  

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry ( 

Cover photo: Red Crossbills in a white spruce tree, Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador © Bruce Mactavish

Également disponible en français sous le titre

« Programme de rétablissement du Bec-croisé des sapins de la sous-espèce percna (Loxia curvirostra percna) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2006. All rights reserved.

ISBN 0-662-44254-7

Cat. no. En3-4/12-2006E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


This recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies, as required under the Species at Risk Act. This recovery strategy also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizationsthat may be involved in recovering the species.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledgeand are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation and recovery of the species. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies and Canadian society as a whole.


Environment Canada

Parks Canada Agency

Government of Newfoundland & Labrador


This strategy was prepared by Jolene T. Sutton.


Significant contributions to this strategy were made by the Red Crossbill Recovery Team:

Brain, Donald: Abitibi-Consolidated Company of Canada

Brazil , Joe: Wildlife Division, Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation

English, Basil: Forest Ecosystem Management, Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Natural Resources

Hearn, Brian: Canadian Forest Service (Atlantic), Natural Resources Canada

Mactavish, Bruce: Contractor

Montevecchi, William: Memorial University of Newfoundland
Stroud, Greg: Terra Nova National Park, Parks Canada Agency

Thomas, Peter: Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada

VanDusen, George: Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Ltd.

Warkentin, Ian: Memorial University of Newfoundland


Thanks go out to all members of the Recovery Team listed above for their extensive input and advice in the development of this recovery strategy. Thanks are also extended to Peter Thomas and Kim Mawhinney for comments and guidance and to Ron Summers and Craig Benkman for providing information on crossbill survey techniques to the Recovery Team. Comments on earlier drafts from Michael Peckford are also gratefully recognized. Thanks also to Canadian Wildlife Service Habitat Conservation Section for their advice and Canadian Wildlife Service Recovery Section for their advice and efforts in preparing this document for posting.


A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

While the Red Crossbill recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery and conservation of the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies, two recovery measures with potentially adverse effects were also considered:

  1. The strategy suggests the encouragement of red and white pine regeneration within insular Newfoundland to augment habitat availability for the species.
  2. In the event that food resources prove limiting to the Red Crossbill, percnasubspecies, in Newfoundland, the strategy suggests that steps may be necessary to reduce competition for food and/or nest predation by red squirrels.

At this time, it is not known if these conservation/recovery measures will need to be implemented. Promoting the regeneration of red and white pine in localized areas is unlikely to impact other species dependent on boreal forest habitat in insular Newfoundland. The potential regeneration area would be modest and implemented in a temporal process to offset any immediate impact to other species occupying the habitat. Additionally, both red and white pine are native species to Newfoundland, and this activity would be restoring the ecosystem to its former composition.

Extensive research is necessary to determine the extent, if any, of competition for food resources and/or nest predation by red squirrels. Directly reducing red squirrel populations in Red Crossbill habitat is not viable. Alternatively, modifying habitat to deter red squirrels from populating areas at high densities but not impacting the habitat to the extent that it would deter Red Crossbill is questionable and difficult to accomplish, but it may prove feasible.

Further information is presented in sections 2.2.1 Potential Interspecific Relationships; 2.2.2 Potential Decline, Alteration and/or Degradation of Habitat via Natural and Anthropogenic Factors; and 4.5 Potential Management Impacts on Other Species, of the Red Crossbill recovery strategy. Before any mitigation measures are implemented, it will be necessary to determine that the benefits identified for Red Crossbill recovery are realistic and attainable.


SARA defines residence as: a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating[Subsection 2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry:


The Red Crossbill, percna subspecies, is a migratory bird covered under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador will have primary responsibility for the management of a significant portion of the Red Crossbill’s critical habitat once it has been identified. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. The Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act also requires the development of a recovery plan within one year of listing for an endangered species. The Red Crossbill was listed as endangered under SARA in July 2005 and under the Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act in December 2004. The Canadian Wildlife Service – Atlantic Region, Environment Canada, led the development of this recovery strategy in cooperation with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Red Crossbill Recovery Team. All responsible jurisdictions have reviewed and approved the strategy. The strategy meets SARA (Sections 39–41) and Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act (Section 23) requirements in terms of content and process. It was developed in cooperation or consultation with:

·        Environment Canada

·        Parks Canada Agency

·        Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Conservation

·        Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Natural Resources

·        Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada

·        Corner Brook Pulp and Paper Ltd.

·        Abitibi-Consolidated Company of Canada

·        Memorial University of Newfoundland

·        Newfoundland and Labrador Natural History Society

This will be the first recovery strategy posted on the SARA Public Registry for the Red Crossbill. At this time, the recovery will be implemented using a single-species approach. Recovery of the Red Crossbill may enhance conservation of other boreal species that rely on cone-producing conifer forest. A multispecies approach for boreal species on insular Newfoundland may become appropriate if additional eastern Canadian boreal species experiencing similar threats become listed under SARA or the Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act in the future.


The Red Crossbill, percna subspecies (Loxia curvirostra percna), is endemic to eastern Canada and is associated with conifer forests on the island of Newfoundland, with evidence of infrequent irruptions off the island (COSEWIC 2004). This subspecies is currently listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act of Canada, as well as the Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act. Although percna was once considered common in Newfoundland, steep population declines have been documented since the mid-1900s (COSEWIC 2004). The last documented percna nest in Newfoundland was reported in 1977 (W. Montevecchi, unpublished data). However, sightings of a number of Red Crossbills in Whitbourne, Newfoundland and Labrador, along with a photograph of a juvenile Red Crossbill being fed by an adult in June 2005 at the same location, indicate that Red Crossbills, probably including the percna subspecies, still nest successfully in Newfoundland (preliminary analysis has determined that some of the individuals observed in Whitbourne may be the percna subspecies). Numbers of percna in Newfoundland are currently estimated at 500–1500 individuals.

The Red Crossbill, percna subspecies, has a restricted distribution, which, combined with its apparent low numbers, makes it potentially very vulnerable to localized as well as broad-scale threats. However, the factors that led to steep population declines, along with current threats and limiting factors, remain speculative. The recovery strategy identifies a series of threats that are believed to be of concern. These include, but are not limited to, disease and insect invasion of cone-bearing trees, food competition from red squirrels and other seed-eating finches, commercial forestry, and the Allee effect. A series of scientific investigations to address these threats will be outlined in more detail in subsequent action plans.

These studies will also help to address the considerable knowledge gaps for percna. There is little information on the habitat choice within Newfoundland, as well as limited information on movement patterns and distribution and how these are influenced by the availability of food resources. Additional questions that are raised include whether percna is further limited by specific behaviours or whether it has evolved in a closed system that has been invaded by alien species over the last 100 years. The answers to these questions may lead us to a more complete understanding of the threats to the species and the steps needed to address its recovery.

This recovery strategy was prepared in response to the legislative requirements outlined in the Species at Risk Act for the development of recovery strategies for endangered species (Sections 37–46) and in response to the Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act (Sections 23–27). The strategy aims to identify processes to assess the presence, distribution, habitat associations, and population status of the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies, in Newfoundland, in addition to identifying threats and limiting factors in an effort to reconfirm the feasibility of recovery. If recovery is reconfirmed to be feasible, the long-term population goal will be to restore the population to a sustainable level through a series of recovery objectives that include research, monitoring, threat assessment, critical habitat and recovery habitat designation, habitat protection, stewardship, and educational programs. Future plans for the conservation of the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies, should involve improving our understanding of the boreal forest community in Newfoundland to ensure the long-term persistence of not only the percna subspecies, but also the suite of other boreal forest species specialists.

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