Friday, February 15, 2013

Bohemian Waxwings in juniper

Bohemian Waxwings, all photos at Enterprise, Oregon, February 2, 2013 by Greg Gillson.

In early February I visited Enterprise, Oregon, in the remote NE corner of the state. I saw several species of northern birds I hadn't seen in several years: Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, American Tree Sparrows, and Bohemian Waxwings.

The waxwings were in a group of about 150 birds, but often broke into smaller flocks of 50 or so, then reconverged. They seemed very flighty--they would fly into junipers in small groups to feed on berries until all 150 birds were present, then suddenly they would all dash off in a fright, to repeat the comeback in a few minutes. However, most of the 50 American Robins would stay in the trees feeding the entire time. Eventually the waxwings chose a low tree right along the road where our group could view and photograph them from inside the car at just 8-12 feet! We spent nearly an hour with this feeding flock of birds as they stripped the tree of its berries.

Bohemian Waxwing

There seemed to be no limit to the number of berries each bird ate. How they could still fly I do not know. The juniper berries are actually fleshy cones of this conifer. The alcoholic drink gin is flavored with these berries. Several central and northern European dishes are garnished with juniper berries.

Bohemian Waxwing

Like their southern cousins the Cedar Waxwings, Bohemian Waxwings are fawn brown with black mask, black throat, and wispy crest. In both species the blackish tail is terminated with a bright yellow band. Waxwings receive their name from the red waxy tips of some of the secondary wing feather shafts. Waxwings have a high-pitched buzzy call or trill, but no real song.

Waxwings feed on flying insects in the summer. It is not unusual to see groups of birds flycatching over a small stream or lake shore. In the fall they switch to berries and fruits as large as cherries.

Bohemian Waxwing

If the shape and flight style of Cedar Waxwings are like starlings, the larger and darker bellied Bohemian Waxwings are even more so.

Another waxwing, the Japanese Waxwing breeds in Russia and winters to Japan and Hong Kong. In appearance it seems half-way between Cedar Waxwing and Bohemian Waxwing with yellow belly and rosy under tail coverts.

Bohemian Waxwing

If you want to know what undertail coverts are, there is likely no better example than the Bohemian Waxwing with its cinnamon-colored undertail coverts. In this species these coverts are extremely long, extending nearly to the end of this bird's quite long tail.

Bohemian Waxwings occur in Europe, Asia, and western North America. Locally, they breed from just below the Arctic Circle to central British Columbia. In winter they move south through Idaho and eastern Washington, and are regular in winter only in NE Oregon. However, keeping true to their Bohemian ("gypsy") name, they roam widely to the south in some winters, usually in flocks. Sometimes a single individual or two will join with a winter flock of Cedar Waxwings west of the Cascades.