The Waxwings are a small family of Northern Hemisphere passerines, known for their irruptive flocks, soft crests, and waxy spots on their wings.
They are characterised by soft silky plumage. They have unique red tips to some of the wing feathers where the shafts extend beyond the barbs; in the Bohemian and Cedar species, these tips look like sealing wax, and give the group its common name. The legs are short and strong, and the wings are pointed. The male and female have the same plumage.
Both North American species have mainly brown plumage, a black line through the eye and black under the chin, a square-ended tail with a red or yellow tip, and a pointed crest. The bill, eyes, and feet are dark. Calls are high-pitched, buzzing or trilling monosyllables
There are just three species in the family, the Bohemian, Cedar and the Japanese species (Bombycilla japonica) of northeast Asia.
These are well-dressed birds. He is not so gaudily dressed in in bright colors, as many other birds are.
But his sleek and silky plumage, in softly blended harmonious shades of modest grays and browns, clothes his shapely form in a most pleasing combination of colors.
Birds of mystery; we never know when or where we may see these roving bands of nomadic gypsies. Always in search for a food supply on which to gorge themselves."
Another neat feature about these birds is their very high-pitched calls, picked out by the keen-eared birder. Those of Bohemians are lower-pitched and rougher; the really challenge to beginning American birders is learning to "filter the air" with one's ears to tune in flocks of the Cedar species.
These are arboreal birds that breed in northern forests.
Their main food is fruit, which they eat from early summer (strawberries, mulberries, and serviceberries) through late summer and fall (raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and honeysuckle berries) into late fall and winter (juniper berries, grapes, crabapples, mountain ash fruits, rose hips, cotoneaster fruits, dogwood berries, and mistletoe berries).
They pluck fruit from a perch or occasionally while hovering.
In spring they replace fruit with sap, buds, and flowers.
In the warmer part of the year they catch many insects by gleaning or in midair, and often nest near water where flying insects are abundant
Waxwings also choose nest sites in places with rich supplies of fruit and breed late in the year to take advantage of summer ripening. However, they may start courting as early as the winter. Pairing includes a ritual in which mates pass a fruit or small inedible object back and forth several times until one eats it (if it is a fruit). After this they may copulate.
So that many birds can nest in places with good food supplies, a pair does not defend a territory, but a bird may attack intruders, perhaps to guard its mate. Both birds gather nest materials, but the female does most of the construction, usually on a horizontal limb or in a crotch well away from the tree trunk, at any height. She makes a loose, bulky nest of twigs, grass, and lichen, which she lines with fine grass, moss, and pine needles and may camouflage with dangling pieces of grass, flowers, lichen, and moss.
The female incubates, fed by the male on the nest, but once the eggs hatch, both birds feed the young
They are not true long-distance migrants, but wander erratically outside the breeding season and move south from their summer range in winter. In poor berry years huge numbers can erupt well beyond their normal range, often in flocks that on occasion number in the thousands.
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