Thursday, March 7, 2013

Birds in Velvet

Post by Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo
Photography by Skeeter Lasuzzo

Cedar Waxwings are Marolyn's favorite bird.  They have a silky texture to their feathers giving them the look of velvet.  They get their name from the touch of red feathers on their wings resembling drips of red wax.  The red feather tips increase in size and number as the bird matures.  The flight image shows how these tiny feathers look in flight.  Waxwings eat berries such as cedar, holly, mulberry, privet and cherry.  Sometimes, they can be observed passing the berries down to other Waxwings.  They have also been known to eat so many fermented berries that they get drunk and fall out of the tree. 

Waxwings are very social birds and are almost always seen in flocks.  During courtship, males and females hop back and forth from each other, sometimes touching their bills together.  Males will attempt to feed the female fruit, insects or flower petals.  After taking the gift, the female usually hops away, then returns to give the gift back to the male.  This ritual is repeated until the female accepts the gift.  After the pairs form, the female chooses the nest site.  The nest consists of a cup-shaped bundle of moss, twigs and grass.  The nest is usually made in a conifer tree.  Cedar Waxwings are among the latest nesting birds in North America which enables them to take advantage of the abundance of fruit in late summer and early fall.

The highest concentration of wintering Cedar Waxwings occurs in central Texas, Alabama and eastern Mississippi.  The Cedar Waxwing's politeness when feeding and watering is legendary.  Cooperation is amazing for a bird that gathers in flocks.  They eat in shifts, one group feeds first then moves out of the way as the next group comes in.  When watering on a bird bath or small water source, they wait their turn, never crowding in.  They will sometimes hover over a crowded water source, waiting for an opening to land.

Photographing Waxwings can be challenging.  At Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the Cedar Waxwings are usually seen in groups at the top of many of the fruit bearing trees.  Since these birds are small, getting close is critical.  Finding a small, low berry bush or a water source will give the photographer an opportunity to photograph these beautiful birds up close.

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