70-plus Reasons to be Happy

 

Range Map for Bohemian Waxwing

When one studies this map of North America, courtesy of Cornell’s website “All About Birds,” and looks at the rectangle that represents Colorado (the NE quadrant as seen from the Four Corners), one notices that the southcentral and southeastern portions of the state are shaded a light blue, indicating that the bird in question occurs here only scarcely during the winter.

Wintertime appearances in northern Colorado are not unusual and for the 7-plus years of my birding “career” (which makes me a baby birder),  I have dreamed of seeing this feathered creature somewhere in the state. The dream, however, remained elusive—until very recently.

I would have been happy with a single sighting anywhere in Colorado—or in the world, for that matter, as the same species also exists in northern Eurasia. That I was able to not only observe more than one representative of the mystery bird, but do so in El Paso County, where we live, was an absolute bonus. I wish I could use a more exuberant expression, such as “the icing or the cherry on the cake,” but as I like neither icing nor maraschino cherries, the generic term will have to do.

When the rare bird alerts in November and December kept including reports from various Colorado counties, we El Paso County bird devotees were put on high alert. And finally, on December 29, 2022, one astute birder heard the telltale trills of a flock as it flew over his property when he was shoveling snow, which made all local ornithophiles hopeful (thank you, Kip!). Knowing that berries are the birds’ preferred winter food, people were on the lookout for habitats offering said fruits, and on January 2, 2023, the birding community was set atwitter when a (the same?) flock was discovered by another expert birder one the west side of town near North Cheyenne Cañon (thank you, Steve!).

And now, without further ado, allow me to present to you the winged wonders who seem to hold a special appeal to bird lovers everywhere: Bohemian Waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwing/Seidenschwanz

Bohemian Waxwing/Seidenschwanz

To the namers, the bright colors and peripatetic lifestyle must have been reminiscent of nomadic “gypsies” from Bohemia in Europe. While the birds eat insects and some fruits during the breeding season and stay close to their nests, they are almost exclusively frugivorous during the nonbreeding season and travel far and wide in search of food to sate their appetites. Colorful red spots on their wings evoked images of sealing wax for English speakers, whereas Germans perceived their exquisite plumage as silken and called them “Seidenschwanz” (literally silken tail, or silktail).

Bombycilla garrulus, their scientific name, also captures that silken sense, as bombyx means silkworm in Greek, and –illa or –cilla is Latin and is thought to denote hair, tail, or a diminutive ending, depending on the source. Garrulus, like its English cognate garrulous, suggests a chatty character. All three species of waxwings (Bohemian, Cedar, and Japanese) tend to flock and communicate with one another frequently, and are often heard before they are seen.

Whether they conjure visions of sealing wax, silk, or velvet (which is my impression), starting the new year with some seventy of these splendid representatives of their kind brought much happiness to many people. I counted 72 reasons to be happy in the topmost photo. They descended upon European Buckthorn growing along a small stream and systemically cleared them of last summer’s fruit, moving from one end of the valley to the other in the course of several days. Dainty eaters they are not, gobbling whole berries with their beaks in a type of feeding frenzy—and swiftly making room for more by eliminating the residues from the other end. I spent time with them twice. January 2, the day they were first found, was overcast with light snow still falling, the tail end of a winter storm, but when I returned two days later, the skies had turned blue again, which was more conducive to photography.

Bohemian Waxwing/Seidenschwanz

Bohemian Waxwing/Seidenschwanz

Bohemian Waxwing/Seidenschwanz

Bohemian Waxwing/Seidenschwanz

While I had seen Bohemian Waxwings years ago in Alaska, I was not a birder then and would not have been able to tell them apart from the other North American species, Cedar Waxwings, so this recent encounter made my official life list grow by one. With the number of worldwide species currently standing at 10,906, and no realistic expectation whatsoever of coming anywhere close to that number, I hesitate to mention that the Bohemian Waxwing was life bird #500 for me. And while birding means so much more than numbers, a milestone is a milestone, regardless of how many miles still lie ahead, so I’m celebrating nonetheless.

Cedar Waxwings/Zedernseidenschwanz; slightly smaller with a different color scheme and several other distinguishing features, they are no less spectacular than their Bohemian cousins

For more information about Bohemian Waxwings, click here; to learn more about Cedar Waxwings, follow this link.

67 thoughts on “70-plus Reasons to be Happy

  1. I must confess I didn’t know that you have this species of waxwing in the US. They migrate to the UK from continental Europe every winter, though the numbers vary enormously depending on weather conditions, particularly wind direction. I’ve seen them only a couple of times, but your wonderful photos make me wish I’d encountered them a lot more frequently. Such a beautiful, elegant bird.

    Congratulations on clocking up your 500th species…I hope you celebrated long and hard, and have already begun planning how to add to your tally!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mr. P. They are definitely a joy to behold, whenever and wherever. I didn’t know these birds existed before I left Europe and I haven’t been there at the right time of year to see them, but I hope I will, one of these days. I also hope you will get more opportunities to encounter them.

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    • Thank you, Steve. I like the notion of converting millstones to milestones, akin to swords into plowshares (or ploughshares in BE). And of reaching micro-milestones, which is how most of us make it through life. Bird species # 501 will be such a micro-milestone. 😊

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      • News flash: About an hour ago I spotted my first cedar waxwing of the season. It was on the trunk of a juniper adjacent to a yaupon tree with lots of little red fruits on it. Maybe the waxwing was a scout and feasting will begin soon.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would love to see a cardinal here, but even though their range extends into eastern Colorado, they haven’t quite spread to this part of the state (yet).
        But I’m thrilled to report that I saw about 500 (!) waxwings today. More seem to be arriving every day and it’s an incredible visual and auditory experience to be in their presence.

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    • Ich danke Dir für die beflügelten Grüße und positive Resonanz, liebe Ulrike. Manche Ersteindrücke prägen sich tiefer ein als andere, und diese Seidenschwanzbegegnungen werde ich sicherlich nie vergessen.
      Sei herzlich zurückgegrüßt,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent photos, Tanja. I’d be all a-twitter if I saw one of these beauties, too. Congrats on milestone 500. While we regularly get cedar waxwings here in MA, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a BW, listed as a scarce visitor. I love their smooth (yes, velvety!) plumage and those handsome masks and crests.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great bird to bring up 500 (100 more than me)!
    Lovely photos of these Scandinavian (probably not these though) beauties. Not seen any for a couple of years, supermarket car parks are usually hot spots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Steve, I’m really happy about the experience and photos. I also learned that Bohemian Waxwings often mix with flocks of Cedars, so I will be paying closer attention whenever I hear or see a group of them. Good luck to you finding some in your part of the country.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hurrah for Bohemian Waxwings! I didn’t even know we had them in new England, but after reading Steve’s comments above, I intend to be on the lookout. It’s about time for the Cedar Waxwings to visit around here. Your photographs are gorgeous! Waxwings can sometimes look so hip and cool and modern to me, and at other times, so wonderfully classical and elegant. Thanks for the wonderful posting!
    Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Julie, Hurrah, absolutely! And you are right about waxwings looking both cool and classical at the same time. I think that’s part of their great appeal.
      I hope you will get to see some in Massachusetts!
      Happy birding,
      Tanja

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  5. You are excited waiting to see the Bohemian Waxwings again. Let me confess to you that I have never seen one in person. I think that bird is a masterpiece of Nature. Your pictures are beautiful, Tanja. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We have Cedar Waxwings, but they’re not common in my immediate area. I have seen flocks of them twice. The first time, they landed in the palm trees straight out from my apartment balcony, and began gorging on the fruits. Within two days, they’d cleaned every one off a dozen or so palms, and were gone. They’re a beautiful bird, as is your species; I’m glad you had a chance to see them.

    I noticed that these all have yellow tail-tips. The ones I’ve seen have mostly orange tips, with a few yellow mixed in. Apparently diet is the reason for the color differences. Cedar Waxwings with orange tail tips began appearing in northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada in the 1960’s, and it seems that feeding on a certain honeysuckle was the reason. I’m not sure what in the diet would lead to orange tips on ours, but it’s interesting to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How wonderful to get to see the Cedar Waxwings from your balcony. I would have danced with joy. It’s amazing to see how quickly vast amounts of berries disappear once a flock has found them.

      I have seen photos of waxwings with orange-tipped tails, but haven’t noticed an orange color with my own eyes. All About Birds lists an introduced species of honeysuckle as the reason, as you also state. Maybe you can figure out the cause of orange-tipped waxwings in TX! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a cool bird! .. and of course that was typed with a green tint as I’m super jealous as I have yet to get this waxwing checked off. Always good to witness a lifer, but to come back with excellent photos is the cher…um, crème de la crème. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Wally. I think waxwings are happy-making birds, regardless of the species. Maybe it’s the combination of swashbuckling and elegance mentioned by a fellow blogger that makes them perennial favorites.

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