10 facts about Waxwings

Day 19 of 100 Days of Blogging

Bird Family of the Week #3: The Waxwings

Order: Passeriformes (perching birds)      Family: Bombycillidae

#1. Who’s Who?
There are three species in the Bombycillidae family worldwide. Two of these are found in North America, the Cedar Waxwing and its larger cousin, the Bohemian Waxwing. Both appear on the PQSPB checklist. The third species, the Japanese Waxwing, is found in North-east Asia. 

#2. What’s in a Name?
The term Waxwing refers to the red tips of the specie’s wing feathers, which look as if they were dipped in sealing wax. A group of waxwings are known as an « ear-full » or a « museum ». 

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) Photo:Wikimedia

#3. Fruit Freak
Waxwings are considered one of the most specialized of frugivores. Consisting entirely on fruit from October through May, they abruptly switch to aerial and vegetation-borne insects through the breeding season. 

#4. What’s all that irruption about?
Most fruit eating species of birds live in the tropics where there are a greater variety of fruit trees and bushes in season at different times of the year. In North America, the Bohemian waxwing, which breeds in the northern forests of  western Canada, failure or shortages of fruit crops force it to seek fruitier pastures, so to speak! These irruptions tend to bring it to the east and south to the great pleasure of bird watchers.. The name Bohemian refers to this nomadic lifestyle.

#5. Friends of a feather flock together
Both Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings are highly social and, outside of the breeding season, live in flocks which can be enormous. Overall, in years where irruptions of Bohemian Waxwings occur, tens of thousands will migrate southward. 

#6. There’s just nothing to sing about!
Waxwings are not territorial which is likely due to the constant need to move around in search of fruit crops, which are only available for a short time. As a result, they do not have a true song.

#7. Life of the Party…maybe
Waxwings can become intoxicated by eating berries that have started to ferment. See the video in the  Birds with Pointy Heads post about the special « drunk tank » for Waxwings!

#8. The Great Avian Seed Dispersers 
Waxwings help with the seed dispersal of fruit bearing plants because, instead of regurgitating seeds like many other  birds, they excrete them in their waste.

Cedar Waxwing (Photo:Connie Morgenstern

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) Photo:Connie Morgenstern

#9. Not just a feast for the eyes
The sighting of a Waxwing may have always delighted the nature lover, but it was not just a feast for eyes!  Like many birds in the 19th century, the Cedar Waxwing was served on the dinner plate as well.  Audubon described it as « tender and juicy. » 

#10. Colour Change Artist 
Waxwings  have yellow tipped tail bands, however, since the 1960s, Cedar Waxwings with orange tips have been observed in the Northeastern US and southern Canada. This is caused by the ingestion of the fruit from an introduced species of honeysuckle during feather formation.