• Paul Anthony Jones

Christbird

(n.) a crossbill



According to the legend, the crossbill’s crossed bill (which it actually uses to tease seeds from pinecones, and other hard-to-reach places) was formed when a flock of the birds attempted to remove the nails from the cross on which Jesus was being crucified. The same tale is said by other legends to account for the male birds’ ruddy plumage, which appears stained or streaked with blood.


Crossbills have ultimately earned themselves the nickname Christbirds, and are popularly claimed to follow Jesus’ life story and hatch at Christmastime, and fledge from their nests at Easter.



That’s not all these birds are said to be capable of, however. Another tale claims that captive crossbills can protect a household against fire, and alert a house to smoke. Another claims that it’s good luck to have a crossbill present at the birth of a child, as the birds are such dutiful parents they’ll even care for a human mother during childbirth.


But it’s their connection to Jesus that lies at the root of most of their folkloric powers. Crossbills are popularly said to have extraordinary healing abilities, and can effectively absorb illness and poor health from sick people.


A bird whose upper mandible bends to the right can transfer colds and rheumatism from man to itself; if the mandible bends to the left, it will render the same service to women.
Charles Swainson, Provincial Names and Folklore of British Birds (1885)

A dish of water a crossbill has drank from is said to be able to treat epilepsy, and—again through their close connection to the death and resurrection of Jesus—the body of a dead crossbill is said to never decay, and exist permanently in a perfect state in nature. Quite a roster of achievements for a bird barely 6 inches long!

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