Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cedar Waxwings

The Cedar Waxwing is one of our two birds with yellow-tipped tails (the other is the Bohemian Waxwing).  The species is primarily a fruit-eater; waxwings have been known to become drunk on fermented berries.  If the berries are near a road, this can be fatal for the birds. We all know that being drunk on a highway is a poor strategy.
Waxwings derive their name from the red, wax-like tips to their secondaries.  You can see these structures in the photo above.  These are odd feather growths because they can be present on males or females. Older birds, however, tend to have more red tips than younger ones. The bird below is a male without the feather tips. You can tell it is a male because the black on its throat is more extensive than on a female (which sports only a very narrow line of black below the bill).
Flocks of Cedar Waxwings are often found in cedar (and other fruit) trees.  I did not expect to find these birds on a barbed wire fence at the Dennison Water Treatment ponds near Northfield.  Their unkempt, long crests also surprised me.  Usually waxwings have handsome, slick plumage.

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