Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cedar Waxwing

Surprisingly this scruffy, young, fruit-stained Cedar Waxwing molts into the elegant adult waxwing pictured below. Waxwings are one of North America's few fruit specialists (although they will hawk for insects when arthropods are abundant). Waxwings show a number of distinct behaviors as a result of their love for fruit. They tend to be nomadic, feeding and breeding where fruit is seasonally or locally available. Because fruit is often abundant, waxwings tend not to be territorial and instead breed and travel in large flocks. Finally, waxwings tend to be late breeders, as evidenced by the heavily molting October juvenal above.

Waxwing numbers are increasing, perhaps because we use fewer heavy-duty pesticides on fruit crops. However, waxwings are notoriously susceptible to consuming fermented fruit, one result of which is drunken waxwings colliding with cars and windows. In Aberdeen, South Dakota, we witnessed massive waxwing mortality due to their eating cyanide-laden Caragana (Siberian Pea-shrub) buds in the spring. The pea-shrub is a winter-hearty ornamental plant introduced from Siberia.

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