For the Birds: Waxwings are always a welcomed sighting

Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing perches on a branch in New England, spring 2021.

I had hobbled almost all the way from the car to the entrance of work when I noticed a flock of cedar waxwings picking off leftover berries in a nearby tree.

Even with the persistent tendinitis in my feet acting up, I made my way back to the car to grab the camera. Usually, in situations like this the camera is sitting at home, but this time I was prepared for the unexpected. Cedar waxwings, in my experience anyway, are always unexpected. They are fairly nomadic, and it’s hard to go out looking specifically for them. But they appear now and then and it’s always a thrill to see them.

I retrieved the camera and hobbled back through the parking lot to the tree in question. Of course, the tree was empty when I got back as the waxwings had taken off for parts unknown.

Things like that have happened far more than I’d like to admit, so I just reported for duty and got to work. Thankfully, the window from my office has a view of that tree, and about 15 minutes later the waxwings were back in force. I slowly made my way back outside and, as is often the case with waxwings, they obliged by going about their business and not minding the click of the camera.

I got my fill of photos and then did a quick scan for any random Bohemian waxwings that may have been mixed in with the flock. Bohemian waxwings on rare occasions can be seen in New England with cedar waxwings. I have yet to see one, but I have read several reports of that happening. Bohemian waxwings are a larger cousin of the cedar waxwing.

Upon getting home that evening and checking the results of the photos, something jumped out at me regarding the waxwings I had photographed. None of them had the telltale and namesake red waxy wingtips. What kind of waxwing doesn’t have waxy wings, I asked myself, even though I suspected I knew the answer.

I was correct in assuming that these are young birds that haven’t developed this feature yet, most likely first-year birds. Upon further research, it is believed that the red waxy wingtips are a sign of maturity and social standing in waxwings. The more red the wingtips, the older and healthier the bird. None or only a few waxy wingtips means it’s a younger and more inexperienced bird. That is the current understanding of the purpose of this feature anyway.

What makes for waxy wingtips? you may ask. Also thanks to the Internet (a blog on nature.org to be specific), I discovered that: “The red wax tips are appendages on the bird’s secondary feathers. They’re colored by astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment.” Now you know.

Cedar waxwings, of course, also have yellow-tipped tails as another distinguishing feature. These are not waxy, just yellow. A change in diet can alter that yellow to yellowish-orange or orange.

I love when I stumble across cedar waxwings. I think if I ever made a top 10 list of my favorite birds they would probably be on it. I would imagine they would fall on the top 10 list of many other birdwatchers as well.

This latest sighting was a welcome prelude to the upcoming warbler and spring migration season. Waxwings may be found in New England throughout the year and they are a welcomed sighting at any time. This sighting was particularly timely as it helped to bridge the gap between winter and the onset of spring migration.

Happy spring everyone, and let me know what you are seeing out there.

Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing looks for berries in a park in New England, January 2021.

For the Birds: Cedar waxwings’ timely appearance

Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing looks for berries in a park in New England, January 2021.

With the tendinitis in my foot acting up again, I wasn’t sure how long of a walk I would be able to bear. I had to give it a shot, however, as a few inches of light, fluffy snow had fallen overnight and made the landscape irresistible for anyone with a camera.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to go very far to get some nice bird photos. I started down a path bordered by thick brush on both sides when I saw a swarm of birds land in a nearby leafless tree. My initial thought was that they were starlings as this flock rivaled in number the large groups of starlings you often see. Something didn’t look quite right, however. They weren’t acting like starlings and they weren’t the right shape.

How cool would it be if they were cedar waxwings? I asked myself. About 10 seconds later Continue reading

A few more cedar waxwing shots

Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing looks for berries in a park in New England, January 2021.

Here are a few more shots of the cedar waxwings I found during an early morning walk yesterday.

Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing looks for berries in a park in New England, January 2021.
Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing looks for berries in a park in New England, January 2021.

Snowy and lucky morning

My first bird walk of the new year proved to be a good one. A fresh but thin blanket of snow covered southern New England on Monday morning making for a quintessential winter scene. I got up with the sun and headed to the nearest park. As I walked along a trail, a large flock of small birds settled into the tall, leafless trees around me. Before I could lift my binoculars to see what they were, they descended upon the berry-covered brush on either side of the trail. Cedar waxwings, lots of them — at least 100. Usually when something like this happens, I don’t have my camera with me for whatever reason. I was prepared this time. A good start to 2021.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A cedar waxwing looks for berries in a park in New England, January 2021.

Latest For the Birds column: Cedar Waxwings on the scene

Photo by Chris Bosak A cedar waxwing perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A cedar waxwing perches on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several newspapers in New England.

There I was, minding my own business photographing a song sparrow in the glowing morning light when out of nowhere a small flock of cedar waxwings appeared on the scene.

Cedar waxwings, in my opinion anyway, are one of the most attractive songbirds we have in New England. They have a nice blend of light browns, tans and grays to go along with their trademark red-tipped wings and yellow-tipped tails. Their thin black eye masks make them look a bit mischievous.

Cedar waxwings are not uncommon, and they can be fairly tame, but quality opportunities to photograph them over the years have been somewhat scarce for me. I see regularly the classic photos of cedar waxwings eating berries. The only time I got a good, close look at waxwings eating berries was years ago on a dark, gloomy day. The photos I took were even more dark and gloomy.

Continue reading

Cedar waxwing on the hunt

Photo by Chris Bosak  A cedar waxwing eats an insect on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A cedar waxwing eats an insect on a branch in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

Most photos of cedar waxwings eating are of the handsome birds chowing down on berries of some sort or another. I got this guy (or girl) eating a white insect. As long as they are eating, it’s all good, I guess.