Friday, June 22, 2012

Cedar Waxwings and The Spiderwort Meadow

A Cedar Waxwing hunts for flying insects at the beaver ponds
Lately, the Cedar Waxwings have been common at the nature preserve. Their soft trilled songs can be heard just about anywhere on the property –in all different habitats.

A flock of Cedar Waxwings in early spring

The song of the Cedar Waxwing seems quite appropriate for a bird with such an amiable disposition. Most of us have heard if not seen for ourselves the waxwings’ habit of sharing berries with others of its kind. They literally can be seen passing berries –beak to beak to their friends and family members. As part of courtship, the male will also frequently give tributes to his mate –usually berries.

Currently, the best place to find a flock of waxwings is down at the beaver ponds, where they gather at the end of the day. There the waxwings partake in catching insects on the wing, an activity that they are as skilled at as any of the true flycatcher species. They’ll perch on a snag right over the water, and repeatedly fly out to catch their prey.

A pair of Cedar Waxwings dissesmble an old Oriole nest for raw materials

In this activity, the waxwings are joined by several species of flycatcher (Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Kingbird and the Great Crested Flycatcher) and by 2 species of swallow (Barn Swallow and Tree Swallow). Dragonflies also eagerly snatch up the insects that fly low over the water. June is a time of plenty if you’re able to eat insects.

Cedar Waxwings accept a wide range of nesting situations. I’ve found their nests placed over marshland, in overgrown pastures and in open canopy forest. I’ve seen them build a nest in a young White Pine only 5 feet high and I’ve also seen them choose a site 60 feet high in a Black Locust tree. They seem to be equally resourceful in their selection of nest building materials. I’ve seen them build (both male and female participate in nest construction) with cattail down, pine needles, poplar cotton, bark strips and also with small twigs and leaves.
A pair turns to stone when someone approaches the nest

The Cedar Waxwings often nest late in the season –even during August, when most of our other breeding songbirds have long since finished raising their last broods. Fledgling and juvenile waxwings have much more mottled feathers on their chests and are easily distinguished from their parents. 

Waxwings have red, yellow and sometimes orange spots on the ends of their wing and tail feathers. These colorful waxy projections are responsible for the species common name. The color of the “wax” at the end of their tails tend to be yellow, but depending on what the birds eat, they may change to orange.
An occasional winter visitor --the Bohemain Waxwing has even more ornate plumage

Frequently waxwings are found in flocks of 12 to 50 birds (sometimes more)especially in fall through spring. Like some of the finch species, waxwings are non-migratory and they are unpredictable visitors outside of the breeding season. They move like nomads, going wherever they find their food resources to be plentiful. Their major foods outside of the breeding season are fruit.

The Spiderwort meadow in bloom
Currently, the wildflower meadow at the nature preserve is filled with spiderwort blooms. You may or may not notice them depending on what time of day you go by the meadow. Generally, in the early morning, their flowers are open, but typically they start to close as the day progresses and the sun light becomes more intense. The individual flowers are short-lived and only last a day or 2, but each plant has numerous flower buds, so the plant itself may continue to bloom for weeks.
Spiderwort flowers

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