Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cedar Waxwings: My First Sighting

Tuesday was a beautiful day with a day time high temperature of nearly 70 degrees.  It was pretty windy that day and I watched as several aged leaves finally let loose and spiraled downward to settle in the dull winter grass.  I had awakened early that morning, long before dawn arrived.  The bird feeders were replenished and fresh peanuts were put out for the local blue jays.  With that done, I sat in my chair on the front porch, sipping on what was probably my fourth cup of coffee by then.  

As I glanced across the cloudy sky over me, I noticed a flock of birds had gathered atop one of the bare trees across the lawn.  Of course, it's not unusual to see scores of birds gathered in tree tops around here. However, this group of birds caught my attention because something about them was different...

My intense curiosity led me to zoom in on them with my 300 mm telephoto lens, but still I couldn't get a clear enough view of the birds to satisfy my inquiring mind.  From a distance, they appeared larger than a group of Cardinals and their chest plumage appeared to be a beige to tan color.  I could see enough of their plumage to know they weren't Blue Jays.  So what kind of birds are these?  I wondered.  I cropped and lightened the underexposed image (above), but still couldn't identify this group of feathered unknowns.  However, my curiosity became temporarily displaced while I reluctantly tried to complete some household chores.

It was hard for me to concentrate on doing housework because the beautiful outdoors beckoned me to come...  Enjoy this gorgeous weather.  Sit on the front porch.  Watch life. You can do your chores after dark, while the earth sleeps. 

Sometimes it's a battle between what we want to do and what we know we must do, isn't it?  We try to somehow balance it all and settle somewhere in the middle.  I completed the laundry, swept and mopped, vacuumed, washed dishes, cleaned kitchen counters and cleaned living room windows inside and out.  I gave Rollo a bath and balanced my checkbook.  With all that done, I spent the late afternoon outdoors.  

As I strolled down the gravel drive with my camera on ready, I noticed some movement in the trees and saw a few Robins fly away.   I expected to see more Robins as I eased closer to the edge of our tree line. Instead, I saw these birds...

These beautiful birds...several of them.  They were Eye a wild bird lover like me ;)))  Ohhhhh!!! I had to get some close up shots of them.  I eased a little closer and slowly raised my camera to focus on them...and captured one photo.  The click of my shutter release startled them.  In a flash, they were gone. Darn!!!  I managed to get one more photo when a couple of them settled in a nearby pine tree.  

I didn't recall seeing this species of birds...ever.  Or maybe, I just hadn't paid as much attention to them before.  I was anxious to learn more about them so I did some research...

I discovered these birds are known as Cedar Waxwings. They are so named because of their fondness for cedar berries and the waxy red tips on their wing feathers. These birds breed from central Canada through the northern United States, but in winter, flocks can descend on fruit and berry trees almost anywhere from the US/Canada border south through Mexico. A flock can strip the fruit from a holly or cedar tree in an amazingly short time and they rarely hang around one area for more than a day or two. I know this to be true because when I returned to the same spot the next day, most all of the berries were gone...not only from that particular tree, but several berry producing trees along our fence line. I could not believe my eyes- all those berries, gone so quickly!  Apparently, the birds consumed all the goods then left town.  

After reading more about them, I now know that Cedar Waxwings swallow the berries whole, one at a time. Furthermore, they occasionally get into trouble when they consume fruits that have fermented on the vine. They literally become drunk and, disoriented by the alcoholic content, will fly irregularly and sometimes fall victims to cars, glass windows, and predators. According to one witness, a group of nine Cedar Waxwings flew into an office window and all but two of them died.  That's sad, but weird- drunk birds?  Flying drunk birds?  I never imagined that.  

The photo directly above is from Wikipedia.  Isn't this a gorgeous bird?  His colors, so rich and smooth.  His beautiful face mask.  I hope to see more of these birds in the future.  I'll be watching for them....

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