Archive for Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing adult 9/17/18

Cedar Waxwings are rather inconspicuous birds and I generally hear their high pitched buzzy trills in the treetops before spotting them. When seen up close they change from drab brown birds to a silky confection of browns, grays and yellow, with black, white, and red highlights. Very handsome! Cedar Waxwings subsist almost entirely on fruit. The color band at the tip of the tail varies from lemon yellow to bright orange depending on their diet during the previous molt. With the breeding season over, some will migrate south, others will join flocks to wander throughout the winter searching for fruits and berries.


Cedar Waxwing 3/9/18

Cedar Waxwings flock up in wintertime and roam far and wide in search of fruits and berries which compose the bulk of their diet. Their high-pitched jingly trills always bring a smile to my face, even when I can’t see them. From any distance they look much like what birders call LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) but close up they are strikingly beautiful with their crested heads, black face masks, silky blend of brown to lemon breast feathers, yellow (sometimes orange) tail bands, and the small beads of scarlet wax on the wings of mature adults which you can’t see in this photo. In winter flocks, keep an eye out for the larger Bohemian Waxwing which often mix in with Cedars. They are larger and stockier, have distinctive cinnamon under-rumps, and more extensive red waxy droplets on their wings.


Immature Cedar Waxwing 1/15/16


Waxwings come in only 3 basic plumages. The juvenile plumage—a birds’ first set of feathers—is a drab and streaky variation on the adult theme. Crests are smaller and fine sharp details like the white-edging of the face mask aren’t yet evident. Immature plumage has the smooth and silky blended colors of adults as well as the colored tail band, but it’s only in full adult plumage that the brilliant red waxy droplets form on the tips of their secondaries. Unlike many songbirds like warblers, waxwings don’t have separate breeding and non-breeding plumages, and even simpler there’s no difference between the sexes either. Waxwings are the most frugivorous of all our songbirds.


Bohemian Waxwing 2/5/15


Bohemians are much stouter than their Cedar Waxwing cousins. They have cinnamon splashed faces and cinnamon undertail coverts, as well as some yellow and white in their wings alongside the red wax-tipped secondaries they get their names for. They breed in the northwestern quarter of North America—Alaska, the western Canadian provinces, and just a little south into the US Rocky Mountain states. If you wanted to see a Bohemian’s nest, the closest you might find one is Glacier Nat’l Park in northwestern Montana. So this guy, who I found hanging with a flock of robins yesterday in somebody’s backyard (in sight of the Atlantic Ocean), is far from home. But that’s what these birds do in winter. Wander.


Cedar Waxwing molting adult 10/18/14


I posted a Cedar Waxwing photo just a couple months ago, but waxwings are among my favorite birds and I wanted to share this recent one because it illustrates how they get their name. At the end of an adult’s secondary feathers, the quill shaft doesn’t taper like in most birds but stays thick and extends beyond the feathery barbs. After a fresh molt these quill ends appear white, but soon a brilliant red waxy secretion coats the naked tips. No one knows the function of this peculiar feature, but it’s quite interesting that of the 3 waxwing species, both the Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings have the red coated quills, while the Japanese Waxwings of Asia have a wingbar of red colored feathers instead.

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Bohemian Waxwing 4/23/14


Not only are Bohemian Waxwings bigger than their more abundant Cedar Waxwing cousins. they are more colorful as well, with bright cinnamon above and below the bill, and cinnamon undertail coverts which can be quite striking in certain light conditions. The wings also have a more elaborate red, yellow, and white pattern (not seen in this pic) whereas the cedars have only red waxy tips in their wings. Waxwings are late breeders so you’ll find flocks sticking together later into the spring, long after most other flocks have split up and paired off. Aside from Bohemians and Cedars, the one other member of the genus Bombycilla (silk-tail) is the Japanese Waxwing.


Cedar Waxwing 2/27/14



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