Cedar Waxwing(!) Photo Credit: Audubon.org :: Jack Bartholm

A flock of about twenty Cedar Waxwings has recently returned to the vicinity around one of my work sites along the north shore. I have to imagine they are they same flock that hung out around there last year, gorging themselves silly on juniper berries and whatever else that caught their eyes.

Over the years I don’t think I have ever seen a solitary Waxwing! – it’s either zero or a dozen – and I find their tendency to group up is a good way to help identify the bird. Waxwings! are the avian equivalent to flash mobs, and they are a riot to watch.

They’re very active, and they seem to have tremendous appetites. Perhaps their activity requires a lot of fuel for those engines because I have seen them chew up old hawthorn berries, crabapple petals, and of course juniper berries. Waxwings! deserve to have that exclamation point permanently welded to their name. It’s a bird and it’s an exclamation as well: similar to “incoming!”

There was such a lovely morning today and the Waxwings! were in their glory. Ripping through the air, chattering as they flew past. First in the junipers, and then the flock flew across the street and were lost from view in the crown of a big old maple. But soon they’re back, sometimes split for a time into groups of three or four. One such small group seemed somewhat at rest plucking the pale blue berries off the tip of an upright juniper. They are handsome in their masks, with subtle colors that could have been airbrushed onto them. I thought I might get a photo of them but they were too wary, and flew away.

Later in the day the main flock flew over me in a big arc. They turned in unison, banking hard under the brilliant blue sky, their normally pale yellowish under-feathers were brought to life by the sun. The scene was every bit as wondrous as a shimmering school of tropical fish on an old Cousteau special.

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Dave Coulter

I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...