Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cedar Waxwings

It was a dark and stormy night....just kidding!  It was actually a cold, overcast morning (March 1, 2013) when a whole flock of cedar waxwings mobbed the Museum grounds in search of food.  I observed them eating a variety of berries:  holly berries, viburnum berries, hawthorn berries, winterberries.  I could definitely see why they're considered "frugivores" or fruit-eaters!  (But they are also known to eat a lot of insects in warmer months.)  Armed with my Nikon D7000 and a Nikkor 18-300mm lens I carefully stalked the flock, consisting of about 40-50 individuals.  They were very skittish and would quickly sweep back into the treetops if anyone got too close.  At one point I planted myself behind our waterfall rock outcropping with just the barrel on my lens peeking over the top of the rocks to get a view of these gorgeous birds.  Here they're stripping dark blue viburnum berries off the twigs at a frighteningly fast pace:
I watched them hover and pluck a berry without landing on the twig, and also they'd hang upside down from a twig and pluck berries!  They are known to become "intoxicated" on berries that have fermented (and consequently have a high alcohol content) but I didn't see any of them appear to be "drunk."  Mostly I watched them pluck berries off plants with quick precision and ease--they gave one swift tug on a berry then swallowed it whole.
I love how cedar waxwings have a such complex coloring:  a blend of subtle soft grays on the wings, back and tail blending to a pale "cinnamon" brown dusting the head and shoulders--sometimes their crest is up, but most of the birds I saw had their crest lay almost flat back on the head.  A soft lemon-yellow blush on the lower belly contrasts with the almost neon yellow tail tips and the strikingly brilliant "waxy" red tips of their secondary wing feathers--these are acquired as a bird gets older.  The sharp black mask on the face is lined with crisp white edges, and their dark eyes glint within this mask--sparkling a deep blackish brown.
What a spectacular treat--I was very glad to have my camera with me that day!  So, here's looking at you....
More off the beaten path in two weeks!

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