Wednesday, July 27, 2011

So That's Why They're Called Waxwings

It has been a while since I've had anything interesting to post about. This summer is proving to be hot, humid, stormy and not as "bird centric" as I would like but it has been busy. In a future post I'll talk about the Purple Martin banding that occupied the first 2 weeks of July. Hard work but a record year for us!

The great thing about our regular banding sessions is that we often catch birds that show us characteristics up close that you just wouldn't see from a distance. This Cedar Waxwing is an example.

Lots of the Cedar Waxwings we handle don't show their namesake waxy tips on the wing secondaries. This fellow however was in full display mode. I've personally been seeing and hearing more CEDWs lately than usual. There should be lots of young mixed in with any flocks that may be around. Look for waxwings with streaky fronts and raggedy crests.

A close up of the wing reveals the waxy tips to look like they were made from bright red crayons. They feel that way too.

An extreme close-up lets one see the point from which the tips are produced. An interesting tidbit about waxwings is that they extract the color chemicals for their feathers from their food and in some places waxwings have been found that have orange tipped tails instead of the expected yellow tipped tail feathers due to their diet.

If you'd like to have waxwings around your yard plant some berry bushes or trees and the waxwings will find them before you know it!


Shannon Marie said...

I have never seen a Cedar Waxwing, he is beautiful!

Jim Ryan said...

But the real question to me is, why? Why do they have them? What are they for? Do any other birds have them?

Nicole MacP said...

Very, very cool, thanks for posting these!

Dominic Gendron said...

really interestin post. nice images :)

Cindy said...

Just saw red on Waxwings for first time this year..thanks for close-up & explication!

Linda Lunna said...


I am a Vermont birdwatcher but have two grown children living in the twin cities and visit as often as I can Also a grand-daughter there!! I enjoyed your blog on the waxwing. I have been watching one build a nest the last few days outside my house in a big maple tree. I blog about birds at and use the same template:}> Hope you'll check it out. Look forward to many more MN blogs!!!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating information!
We had a flock of cedar waxwings come by our house last year. We have a huge holly tree in front, that was covered with berries. They stripped that tree in a matter of about 30 minutes! I tried to take photos, but they were so skittish that even when I went to the window to try to photograph, the whole flock would fly away. I KNOW I couldn't have gone outside to take the picture. Thanks for the information!

Diane Gere said...

Is there a Cedar Waxwing variety that does not have the red waxy feathers? I believe that is the bird that did not survive hitting a window at my house. The bird is not very large. This lovely gray and yellow bird has the yellow tips on its tail feathers and the bandit mask I see on the Cornell website

laurak@forestwalkart said...

i found some feathers in the front yard this morn...and had NO idea what they were...had never seen anything like them i googled...found your post here!! now i know!! we have cedar waxwings, that have migrated from up north!! now i have to keep my eyes open to spot one in person!! not JUST the feathers with the red waxy tip and the BRIGHT yellow on the end of the tail. (obviously...unfortunately...some critter must have 'taken' the waxwing during the night...)