Monday, April 07, 2008

Cedar Waxwings

Spring migration: thousands of snow geese landing in wetlands, sandhill cranes calling overhead, raptors appearing at their spring nesting spots in Idaho canyons. Keep your eyes open, and you never know where you might see migrating birds.

Recently, I heard the loud, excited twittering of birds just across the street from The Nature Conservancy's office in downtown Boise. A look into the trees revealed hundreds of birds feeding on berries: cedar waxwings.
Waxwings are one of my favorite birds. From a distance, they look like garden-variety little brown birds. But a closer look reveals the striking crown and beautiful red and yellow hues. The tip of their tail is especially brilliant:
According to National Geographic's Reference Atlas to North American Birds, cedar waxwings migrate from one patch of sugary fruit to another. When a particular patch of trees contains large amounts of berries, several flocks of birds will join together, creating a super-flock of hundreds--as I was seeing in downtown Boise. Nearly every branch of the parking lot's trees contained a hungry waxwing, picking off nutritious berries.

Waxwings are one of the few species outside the tropics that subsists mainly on berries. While their diet also includes insects, some 75% of their caloric intake comes from fruits. They gobble up berries with great gusto:

They migrate in an irregular pattern, moving from one patch of fruit to another. Their visit to a new area involves a feeding frenzy--stripping as much fruit as they can off the trees, before quickly moving on. I enjoyed their presence in Boise for two days, and then they were gone. Maybe somebody farther north is now enjoying them as they devour a new patch of fruits. --Matt Miller

No comments: