What an honor it is to follow Anne Schmauss in writing this column. It’s a tough act to follow in that Anne was so knowledgeable of all things bird-related, a strong advocate for environmental and wildlife protection, and, above all, a talented writer.
My wife, Karen, and son, Matt, have lived in Santa Fe County for almost nine years, and we are fortunate to reside in the spectacular Galisteo Basin Preserve. Karen introduced me to her love of backyard birding 42 years ago. During our 800-mile honeymoon drive from Cincinnati to Montreal, we counted dozens of red-tailed hawks along the roadway. Doesn’t everyone do that on their honeymoon?
Here, during winter, we are so lucky to have an awesome visitor, the cedar waxwing.
It is a medium-sized bird, slightly smaller than a robin. Waxwings have a peachy brown head and chest, a distinctive black mask, a throat bordered by white, a pale-yellow lower belly, bright yellow tips on their tail feathers, red tips on their secondary wing feathers and a distinctive head crest.
Their name is derived from their love of cedar berries and the red, secondary wing feather tips that look like shiny drops of sealing wax.
Waxwings love to feast on juniper and Russian olive berries. They often gather in large numbers to feed in fall and winter. They swallow the berries whole and, rather than regurgitating the seeds as other bird species do, eliminate the seeds with their waste. Cedar waxwings do not normally visit feeders, but if you want to try to attract them, provide raisins, mixed seeds and sliced fruit. Remember to always provide water.
Waxwings breed in northern North America and southern Canada, migrating as far south as Central America. Flocks of waxwings are sometimes known as an “earful” or a “museum.” Numbers of waxwings are on the rise globally, now about 15 million.
Building a nest takes a female five to six days and requires more than 2,000 individual trips. Waxwings are known to save time by taking materials from other birds’ nests. Their clutch size is two to six eggs with, typically, one to two broods during the mating season. The eggs are pale blue or blue gray, and sometimes spotted with black or gray. The incubation period is 11 to 13 days. Young leave the nest about 14 to 18 days after hatching. Waxwings can live up to eight years in the wild.
Be on the watch for cedar waxwings over the next couple of months, as there have been many sightings in our area. You will often hear them before seeing them. They vocalize almost constantly by uttering a high, thin scree!
Enjoy your birding this winter. Please provide food and water for our feathered friends. The long, cold winter nights are difficult for them.