Monday, July 28, 2008

Waxwings Eat Bugs

The Cedar waxwing is one of our most debonair birds, having a slick suit of silky tan feathers decorated with a stylish black mask and vivid, glistening wing and tail tips of red and yellow. It is a very social bird, most conspicuous in Winter when rollicking flocks will dependably visit every tree or shrub of lingering fruit. A few of them hang out here in the summer as well. 

Yesterday I watched a pair raiding a white mulberry tree overhanging a pond in Ipswich, occasionally letting fly a short burst of their high-pitched, sibilant song. They also engaged in something I hadn’t seen before, flying out over the pond to hover and poke at the surface with their beaks in simple, delicate gestures before flying back to the mulberry. I had always thought of them as exclusive fruit eaters, but the only thing I could imagine they were up to was eating insects. As I was thinking of the sight this evening I pulled out Kenn Kaufmann’s Lives of North American Birds and found that yes, Waxwings eat insects, and are in fact known to hover and flutter as they snatch their meals from their hidey-holes. Another one to add to the short list of birds that I’ve observed doing a pretty effective job hovering in place: hummingbirds of course, golden-crowned kinglets, american kestrels and eastern phoebes. 

The phoebes were also busy at work over the pond, but stayed much closer to shore, and sometimes perched right on the quivering surface of a lily pad, if you could really call that a 'perch'.  

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