Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cedar Waxwing

Sleek and tailored, Cedar Waxwings are drop-dead gorgeous birds, especially when striking a pose.

No feather out of place, Cedar Waxwings take the prize for always looking smartly dressed and well 
put-together. Some juveniles look a bit disheveled, but that’s normal.

This 1st year juvenile seems to be progressing into adulthood gracefully and appears self-sufficient at food gathering.  Cedar Waxwings eat fruit when it’s available and insects at other times. This one was gleaning grapes vining through the trees of Havenwoods State Forest, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

This somewhat younger Cedar Waxwing is still dependent on adults for food.  Ripe fruit is everywhere at this time of year, possibly more fruit that this pudgy young bird cares to eat.  He was quite content just keeping an eye on the attending adult as they warmed themselves in the rising sun.

Both of these juvenile Cedar Waxwings appear to have been born this year, although several weeks apart.  The younger one could be from a second brood for this parent.  Predation takes a lot of young birds.  Often a second brood is started late in the season if the first brood didn’t survive.

Male Brown-headed Cowbird,
 light brown female below
Cedar Waxwings can be targets for the Brown-headed Cowbird, a rogue bird with a devious method of insuring its own species survival.  

The adult female Brown-headed Cowbird secretly lays one of her eggs into a songbird’s egg clutch and then abandons it.  The nest owner may not recognize the odd looking egg and incubates it along with her own.  When it hatches it quickly out-competes the host nestlings to becomes the sole recipient of all the incoming food.  The host parents don’t recognize this large and hungry baby as anything other than their own offspring.  They feed it and raise it unwittingly. Cowbird parasitism victimizes a lot of songbirds, but they seldom outwit the Cedar Waxwing. Why?

The Cedar Waxwing is a fruit eater.  It raises its young on insects, but large quantities of fruit, too.

By luck or chance the Cedar Waxwing unknowingly possesses the means of outwitting the parasitic Brown-headed cowbird.

A Cedar Waxwing duped into hatching an alien cowbird egg doesn't necessarily loose its precious nestlings to the uninvited guest.  That's because the alien chick won't thrive on the Cedar Waxwing's fruit-rich diet and seldom survives to adolescence.

It seems like a cruel outcome to a dirty trick.

All birds need a protein source and insects provide protein.  Hawking insect from the air, while skimming low over a pond, requires fancy aerobatics and the Cedar Waxwing is a skilled flyer. It’s only takes seconds to catch and consume an insect, but small insects require hundreds of flights, which can be tiring.

Perched on a cattail blade a Cedar Waxwing rests.

REMINDER: Click any photo to enlarge.

There is a lot to like about the Cedar Waxwing besides its stunning good looks.  They’re social birds, so when you find one you’ll find others, too.  They aren’t skittish or flighty, so they might allow you fairly close access while pre-occupied with bugs and berries. 

I watched these for an hour beneath a hawthorn tree as the young and old flew sorties together over the pond. The hunting was good today, so they took only momentary rests between flights. 

Thankfully, they remained undisturbed by my presence. I left them before they left me...that never happens.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Credit: The Sibley Guide to Birds