Friday, October 16, 2009

Cedar Waxwing with Tricolored Tail

Erika and I banded 22 Cedar Waxwings all caught at the same time in Northfield today, 13 October 2009. One was interesting: it had a tricolored tail! Its right outer tail feather tip was white. The central feathers where yellow-tipped. the left two outer feathers were orange-tipped.

I have read about orange-tipped waxwing feathers before. See, for example: http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/JFO/v063n02/p0212-p0216.html This paper suggests that the cause of orange-tipped feathers may be from honeysuckle that contains rhodoxanthin. "The ripe red berries of these shrubs are available from June through July. Nestling waxwings, which develop rectrices at this time, may be fed honeysuckle berries and consequently grow orange-tipped tails. Adults do not normally molt rectrices until the berries are no longer available, and nearly always have yellow-tipped tails. Several immature birds with orange tail bands were found growing yellow-tipped replacement tail feathers in September and October, after the honeysuckle fruiting period; two yellow-tipped birds were growing orange-tipped replacement feathers in July, when honeysuckle berries were available."

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