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Well-mannered waxwings are delightful to watch

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Our Evergreen World

By Sylvia Brockner

Once more we are having unpredictable weather. But it is August and August seems to have trouble deciding what to do. It is generally a very nice month with a bit more rain than usual. But it also seems to think it is supposed to usher in fall, so it is sometimes cold, grey and miserable. It is the one month of the year when we can find a variety of fungi growing in the woods. Highly colored and very beautiful, our mushrooms can be dangerous. So, if you are interested in them take them to the Denver Botanic Gardens for their experts to identify and if possible take a course on mushrooms when they next have one. They are dangerous so don”t try eating any of them.

I saw my friend Kathi LaTourette this past week and she told me of seeing two different waxwings. One was in some ones house where it had flown in through an open door and couldn’t find its way out. The other was at Evergreen Lake. .There have been several sightings at Evergreen Lake this past week.
‘Waxwings belong to the Bombycillidae Family which is a very small family with only one genus and two species in the United States .. They are light tan birds with a yellow band across the tip of their tail and are usually seen in flocks except during the brief time they are nesting. They are much later in nesting than many birds so it is usually August before you see young waxwings. When I was banding birds in Bear Creek Lake Park many years ago I banded two different young cedar waxwings.
They were young birds of the year so it is tempting to assume they nested there. However, they were well developed and could fly well, so they could have traveled some distance. They probably were born there, for they were lone birds which had not yet joined a flock which would indicate they had not been out an about for long. Waxwings start out in small family groups then they join with another family and so on until they are a good sized flock. When other flocks show up, they join together and soon it is not unusual to see large winter flocks of two or three hundred birds. The winter flocks are often predominately Bohemian waxwings which usually nest farther north across Canada but there are almost always a few cedar waxwings in any big flock.
Vi axwings were persecuted in the past by orchardists who shot them by the hundreds when they ate their fruit, this is no longer done since it is now illegal as they, like almost all song birds are protected under the bird treaty with U.S., Canada and Mexico. Also the orchardists have learned that their orchards are healthier when these birds eat the many insects that also attack their fruit. Waxwings usually eat wild fruit such as choke cherries when it is available. Many orchardists now plant choke cherries and other wild fruits, which have no commercial value, for the waxwings.
I watched a flock here one wintry afternoon fly into a couple of small aspen down below the house that were growing along the creek. The birds were interesting to watch for even though they must have all been thirsty, they patiently and politely took turns going down to the water to drink and bathe until they had all had their turn. Watch for flocks of waxwings in crab apple trees which still have fruit. These small fruit freeze and they are especially fond of them in areas where they have been planted. And enough are available to feed the whole flock.
When they had all had their fill of water they looked into the serious business of eating. There was a small juniper tree growing near by that had a bumper crop of berries that soon caught their eye.
It takes two years for the fruit of the Rocky Mountain Juniper to mature so this one was covered with two year old blue berries and one year old green berries. It soon became obvious that waxwings were very color conscious and could easily tell which “berries” were green and which were blue. For when I examined the tree after they had left, I could not find a single blue berry but the green ones were in tact, awaiting another years growth to ripen.
During all this time, while the flock bathed, drank and ate I never saw any squabbling, they were patient and shared every thing. However alhough they were always gentle and polite, they were Talking incesantly. This is what gives these bnirds the name of wandering chatterer in Canada. Some authors think there muttering and low chattering sound ominous or quarrelsome but to me they sound like a group of women gossiping and telling stories while tey do their laundry. They don’t sound angry they just sound like they were gossiping.
The waxwings are usually described as tan but their back generally has a lot of grey on it which blends in with the tan. The Bohemian waxwing has two large white wing patches which the cedar lacks. Look for them in winter flocks and you can usually compare the two species. They are beautiful
well mannered little birds which you will find delightful.