A Fun-Loving Guide to the Natural World for Kids and Adults

Cedar Waxwing Feather

We’ve always admired Cedar Waxwings for their airbrushed beauty. Watching them in their congregations, however, we’ve always been curious about the mystery of their name — a name that references the tiny red bits of ‘wax’ that are perched on the tips of some of their flight feathers.

This is a mystery we’ve only been able to wonder about from afar, trying in vain to look through binoculars to see what those red tips really are. Then, the other day, an unbelievable treasure crossed our paths. There before us was a feather — a feather with a red, ‘wax’ tip.

Taking it inside, we examined it excitedly. The ‘wax’ wasn’t waxy at all — instead, it is smooth and shiny, like the feather’s shaft. The back is lighter colored and concave.

Even more perplexed, we searched the internet, only to find that no one really knows why these birds are graced with this special addition to their feathers. It seems to have something to do with age and mating, but it’s curious that the waxwing family alone has developed this trait, while most other birds (at least in our area) accomplish the same thing with bright colors, fabulous dances, and beautiful song.

Another of nature’s fabulous mysteries. Now that we’ve finally gotten close to an actual feather, it’s even more mysterious!

10 Responses to “Cedar Waxwing Feather”

  1. What a beautiful feather—and a beautiful bird. We get them down here in Sarasota during migration and some stay for the winter with groups of robins. On vacation in the NC mountains a few years ago, we watched them for quite a while along a river-dashing out to grab insects in flight. I love the memory of that.

  2. Hi Gropius! Aren’t they amazing birds? Quite the lookers! Your in-flight insect catching memories sound amazing — what a vision!

  3. Hi Guys,

    My wife saw a bird earlier in the summer gathering some coconut lining we had use in hanging baskets. The next day I saw it too. I was really excited, because it was super exotic looking.

    So out I went with the camera. When I saw them up in a cedar tree I sat in a chair waiting to take a picture. I could see them fluttering around in the tree, but they kept going out on the other side. I waited patiently not moving a muscle, but no luck. I decided to move the chair around the house to the other side of the tree. I situated myself about 50-60 ft away so I wouldn’t scare them. Take a guess. Yep, they started going in and out the other side now.

    Still excited I wasn’t giving up. I went in the house to the second floor to the closest window. The window was actually very close to the top of the cedar tree where they were building a nest. They still were not going to let me take a picture.

    Finally I opened the window and leaned out to get a better shot. That kind of freaked them out. One of them flew over to a pine tree near by. Finally out in the open. I started shooting, I got tons of shoots. Some with the belly, wings fluttering and all different positions.

    I ran downstairs to unload the camera. Remember I am really excited by this crazy exotic looking bird in my yard. My wife’s like, I saw it first. After I blew up the picture, I got out the bird book and found it. A cedar waxwing. True to their name they were building in a cedar tree. I didn’t see them much after that, but they would appear for second or two from time to time. These birds are very nervous or just over cautious. Either way it was fun getting pictures of them. I put some in a photo gallery at http://treasuresofoz.org/photo-galleries/submitted-photos/birds they are the last 4 pictures.

    A very sad thing happened later though. I accidentally erased all the nature photos I had taken all summer. Sandhill cranes, woodchucks, turkeys and more. I was devastated and could even pick up a camera for a couple months. I got back on the horse during the Treasures event while we were touring the parks.

    Anyway, super cool birds I hope will come back next year so I can get some pictures again. My wife wanted to cut down the cedars when we moved in, but I wouldn’t do it. They must have made a reservation for the tree! :0

  4. Hi David! Awesome story — we love it! It can be SO frustrating when an animal ‘plays’ with us like that. Thanks for sending the link to the photos!

    So sad to hear about the loss of your pictures. That must have been an awful feeling when you learned they were gone. We keep so much on these computers, and it’s just a lightning strike away from losing all of them (then again, it’s just a lightning strike away before we could lose ourselves! =)

    Thanks for sharing this tale, and we’ve been wondering about the Treasures event — hopefully it went wonderfully!

  5. Thanks for asking. The event went well. It was a bit warm that day, but we still had a pretty good turnout. It seems as though we are going to make it an annual event.

    I am starting a blog for our homepage now. I will be publishing an article soon about our quest for the Golden Garden Spider. I think it will be fun writing.

    I got a easement monitoring position with the local land trust. It should be fun hiking on someones land to make sure they aren’t being naughty to nature.

    Ella and I also found some praying mantises. A brown one and a green one. The brown one was very aggressive and started chomping on Ella’s finger when I was giving it to her to hold. Probably didn’t hurt though. The green one on the other hand was docile as could be. Ella was scared to hold it after the other incident, but let me put it on her head. Most girls worst nightmare, some carnivorous insect in there hair!


  6. Hi Dave!

    Mantises? Wow! As our own baby is swiftly approaching (November-ish), Ella is always an inspiration to us in her adventurous approach to nature =)

  7. Charming! I’ve always wondered about the waxy tips to the feathers. I’ve seen waxwings when I traveled to California. Here in India, we don’t get them. Do you have different species of waxwings?

  8. Hi Bijoy!

    Thanks for visiting our blog! Those waxy tips sure are strange, aren’t they? There are two other Waxwings — the Japanese and the Bohemian. Here we only have the Cedar and the Bohemian, both of which have those waxy tips. The Japanese apparent doesn’t, though we’ve never seen one with our own eyes.

    Also, we are amazed at your blog. Well done! You have a great team of people creating some fabulous work — all in the name of nature! It truly warms our hearts to see that. The Sundarbans Tiger article is great — we have a friend, Sy Montgomery, who visited there and wrote a wonderful book — “The Spell of the Tiger”.

    Please keep up the wonderful work!

  9. Wow! I never knew that about Cedar Waxwings! An example of the wide and wonderful world of nature. One of the things I love about nature(I am an avid hiker, novice nature photgrapher, and contemplator of woods) is that there is always something to learn amid the joy and serenity; that it’s not so much about distraction or forgetting about the crazy city. There is wisdom there that is ageless and we only find it when we go there with a receptive and unafraid mind. Have you ever read “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn? While not specifically about nature or the wild, it shed some new light, or, rather, some light that has always been there on what nature is, really, to us. I love to see other people appreciate the natural world and observe it in such a way that it is not some alien world that we are separate from. Check out my blog, if you would like to. Initially, I wanted to incorporate some additional interests of mine. For now, I am happy to post blogs about the hiking/ exploring/ wandering I do. It is at http://valleyproject.wordpress.com. Thank you!

  10. Hi Ted!

    Thanks so much for visiting. We LOVE your blog — we haven’t really explored the Pacific Northwest, and the photos look like such a wondrous environment to explore!

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