Share it! Science : See it? Share it! A Flock of Waxwings on a Warm Winter's Day

See it? Share it! A Flock of Waxwings on a Warm Winter's Day

     I observed several notable things this week. The first is the the temperature made it above freezing for the first time in at least a month. The second is that I witnessed a flock of uncommon birds in my yard. We have a choke cherry tree in our front yard that holds on to its fruit throughout the winter. In past years we've enjoyed watching a grouse gorge on it's fruit in the winter, and my dog doesn't mind sneaking a cherry or two before I can stop her. A little after noon on Wednesday some movement on the tree caught my eye. I was very excited to see two Cedar Waxwings eating the cherries. This is a rarity for my yard, so I excitedly got my camera. It was a blustery day and the birds movements were frenetic, so my photos left something to be desired. As I watched longer, I realized there was a whole flock of the birds perching on a beech tree on the other side of the driveway, taking turns descending on the cherry tree a few at a time.
     It was thrilling to see a bird that I don't see often, and a whole flock of them no less! When they had all landed up on their beech tree perch for a rest, I took a photo so I could try to count. There appeared to be 23 birds in all. I was excited to add it to the list we maintain on Cornell's eBird site,  and go through the data maps to see where else these birds might have been spotted. I found two sites within 25 miles that had reported 22 and 55 Cedar Waxwings in the past week. Perhaps this was the same flock, or parts of it?
     Today, however, as I did some more research for this blog post, I began to look at my pictures more closely. I am not an expert birder, however, I do think accuracy is important when identifying species. I now believe that my flock of waxwings were Bohemian Waxwings instead, which is much more rare for Massachusetts. I began to question my identification when looking at Bohemian Waxwing photos and reading the descriptions. My waxwings were primarily gray and lacked the white line on the forehead that is a defining identification feature of the Cedar Waxwing. I cannot say with 100% certainty, but I now believe my first identification was incorrect. I went back to the eBird maps and low and behold, I am not the only one to spot a Bohemian Waxwing in the area. 

     At any rate, both waxwings are social birds that can be seen in flocks year round. They eat insects and fleshy fruit. Their main identifying features are their crested heads, red waxy wingtips and bright yellow tip of the tail. I think they are some of the most beautiful birds, I was so excited to watch them for their half hour visit to my tree!
What do you think? Cedar or Bohemian? ©SBF
     Part of bird identification is looking for subtle defining features. This can take practice, and as I have already admitted, I am no expert. Although it might take a second look proper identification can be a fun piece of a wildlife mystery. There are many tools available for identifying birds. Please see my earlier post "The GBBC and Woodpeckers Galore" for a list of digital and print resources for identification. 
     So, what do you think? Were they Cedar Waxwings or Bohemian Waxwings?  Comment below or e-mail me at: 
The flock in a nearby tree. ©SBF

A Ruffed Grouse enjoys the cherries last winter. ©SBF

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