Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing
A Cedar Waxwing perched in -- surprise!-- the Prairiefire crabapple tree.

This handsome devil is a Cedar Waxwing (the sexes look alike). While my photo gives a good sense of the bird, you can't really make out some of its many beautiful details as well as they deserve. For example, there's a gorgeous, bright-yellow stripe across the end of its tail feathers that you can just see in this shot and red wing-tips that you can't make out. Follow the link above to an informative page with a more detailed image. You can also listen there to its distinctive cricket-like call, which these highly social birds are nearly constantly sounding in order to keep in touch with each other. The call makes this an easy bird species to identify.

[More text and an alternate take photo below the fold.]

Mary must have been hearing that Cedar Waxwing call in her sleep, because just a few days ago she commented to me that we hadn't seen any of them this year. Of course the very next day I caught a pair setting up a late nest in an arborvitae hedge next to the house. Or, who knows, maybe they’d been there all season and we hadn't noticed them yet.

Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, Cedar Waxwings are fascinating birds to watch. Like Catbirds, they don't eat seed, preferring fruit and insects. And like Catbirds, they're highly alert and active, always doing their own thing and fending for themselves, never slaves to the feeder. I first noticed Cedar Waxwings as the birds that would periodically visit the boathouses on our lake -- always moving in a clockwise direction, interestingly -- to pick off and eat all the spiders they could find. Usually once every month or so they'd make a circuit.

Once I planted fruit trees, Cedar Waxwings became more frequent visitors, and now they even nest here. As I mentioned somewhere in one of our bird comment threads here on IIRTZ, a year ago March a large winter group of Cedar Waxwings successfully contested with the much-larger and much-punchier Robins for control of the mummified, leftover fruits on our Prairiefire crabapple tree. I expected them to be back this spring, but to the Robins' relief they never arrived.

There is currently another bird war going on in our side yard over the ripening (and delicious, I can attest) fruits of some Shadblow (aka Serviceberry) trees. The Cedar Waxwing pair is more than holding its own against a family of Robins, a pair of Catbirds and a clan of the most insipid, non-native House Finches you ever saw. Working in the Cedar Waxwings' favor is their specialized skill to hover, sort of like hummingbirds, for short periods of time while they maneuver in to pick fruit from its branches or spiders from their webs. Unfortunately for all of the fair-fighting native species, however, the oh-so-ridiculous House Finches have taken the fight asymmetrical by starting to eat as-yet unripe fruit. All's fair, I guess, in love and bird war.

Cedar Waxwing 2
Here he's lost his composure and, all flustered, is about to fly away. He cat-and-moused me with that branch above his head for a good thirty shots before he'd had enough. He peered at me above it, he peered at me below it. He hid his eyes behind it and pretended we could no longer see each other. He cocked his head and listened to the camera shutter, then he turned and had a listen with his other ear. And today he won't come anywhere near me.