Friday, January 29, 2016

Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings

The Waxwings Have Come

Bohemian Waxwing
We have a lot of fruit on trees and shrubs this winter in some parts of New Brunswick.  There were not a lot of finches and waxwings seen over the Christmas Count period (Dec 14 to Jan 5).  In years of plentiful fruit on apple, mountain ash, cranberry, etc. trees in winter we expect these birds to come and feast.  And, they have come in some parts of the province.  

Waxwings are usually seen in flocks (sometimes in the 100s) feeding on fruit.  They are voracious fruit eaters, feeding mainly on dried fruit in winter.  In Spring they will also eat flower parts (petals, etc.).  It is a delight to see a flock feasting on mountain ash berries, for example.  They are so busy eating that they pay little attention to us humans who are watching from the sidelines.  Their voice is a high-pitched zee so these flocks make beautiful music as they feed.

Waxwings are easy to spot.  They have a pointed crest and are about the size of a starling.  They have the unique feature of a waxy protrusion from their secondary wing feathers which gives them their name.  This is a beautiful scarlet colour.

We have 2 species of waxwings, the Bohemian Waxwing and the Cedar Waxwing.  The Bohemian is 21 cm long and the Cedar is 18 cm.  Seen above is the Bohemian Waxwing.  It is a little larger than the Cedar Waxwing and is more greyish overall in appearance.  They can be distinguished from the Cedar Waxwing by the cinnamon brown colour under their tail.  The Cedar Waxwing as seen below has yellow on its breast and white under its tail.

Cedar Waxwing [Internet Photo]
The waxwings nest later than any of our other songbirds.  Since they feed their young fruit, they time the hatching of their young with the ripening of our seasonal fruit.  When you see them busy gathering fruit and flower parts in late summer, they are feeding their young.

Bohemian Waxwings Feeding on Fallen Fruit
Bohemian Waxwings are only here in winter (not all winters).  They breed from northern Ontario to Alaska so they are gone in summer from NB.  They get their name from the wide-ranging wandering flocks.  We are fortunate to have them arrive here most winters.

Cedar Waxwing in Summer
The Cedar Waxwings are regulars here.  They breed here in summer and are abundant.  It is unusual, however, to have them here in winter.  Recently there has been a large flock of waxwings feeding on berries at the University campus in Moncton and with them is a large number of Cedar Waxwings.  I wonder if that is because of our mild winter.  I hope so.  

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