Waxwings and couple locals

Migration is still mostly a mystery. We know that things move around the planet; sharks, whales, striped bass, lots of birds, caribou, butterflies and dragonflies, and wildebeest. We know why they do it; to find a seasonal food source, to reach a likely breeding area, or to avoid bad stuff like seasonal fires or cold (cold kills off food sources as well as presenting metabolic challenges). We expect creatures to appear or disappear within a season or at a certain time of year. Migratory birds arrive and depart, nests are made and used, flowers bloom and fruits appear – all somewhat predictably.

On the other side of the coin is the total lack of understanding about some important features; what starts the movement, do creatures travel together, is it weather or food dependent, is there a simple answer or is it a suite of circumstances that work together to create a general result, how do they navigate and what do they remember.

In the image above there are five Cedar Waxwings (CEWA) and one Bohemian Waxwing (BOWA). The cedars are smaller and much more common in the Northeast US. As a matter of fact the Bohemian Waxwing is an irregular winter bird in New England. It shows up each winter in small numbers for certain and very rarely in larger numbers. Both waxwings eat fruit and seeds in the winter and thus are looking for hollies, privet, cedars, and bittersweet. Sadly two of these are invasive plants in our region.

In this photo, also with both the Bohemian and several cedars, the birds are stuffed to the gills with privet berries. They had just spent a few minutes gorging on the cold fruit of this hedge plant. Birds have a storage area called a crop where food can be gathered, stored and saved for swallowing and digestion later when the bird is in a safer place. The majority of the birds above have swollen crops, full of privet berries. The Bohemian waxwing is on the left again.
This Cedar Waxwing happens to be a resident of West Virginia where it, and a hundred of its cousins, were feasting on a cluster of crabapple trees. Plantings for wildlife are always a good option when thinking about your yard or a nearby park.

The Bohemian Waxwing, and even the more common Cedar Waxwing, is a nice winter bird to happen on; fun to see, a bit of a surprise, and providing some brightness in a rather drab environment. There are many birds that are much easier to see in our winter. 2019-2020 has been a very mild winter but still there are few insects, not much fruit, and almost no seeds from our annual plants. So here are a few more common birds …. that can always find something to eat and a place to hang out.

Our most abundant winter duck is the Common Eider (COEI). The black and white males are easily visible even when well off shore. The darker females are more difficult to see in the distance but eider of both genders come close to shore often. These two females show the nice browns of the females and the aquiline bill that is a distinctive characteristic of the species. At the moment there is one spot (Chatham, Massachusetts) where about 10,000 COEI are on the water at any given moment. It is quite a sight.
Of course gulls are a coastal feature in the northern hemisphere. The inland breeding Ring-billed Gull (RBGU) winters with us after raising young in central southern Canada and around the Great Lakes. It is not a SEA gull – as a matter of fact the term Sea Gull doesn’t apply to any bird at all. They are gulls, some of them can be found along the shore. In the image above the smaller grayish gulls are Ring-billed Gulls and the larger ones (center and right) are Herring Gulls (HEGU). In April and May the Herring Gulls will hang around the Herring runs (a migratory fish returning to fresh water to lay eggs) and grab the fish out of the riffles and shallow water.
This is a portrait of a Ring-billed Gull. It is smaller and sleeker looking when compared to \the larger rugged-looking Herring Gull. The neat ring around the bill is seen in birds over two years old and is diagnostic. The gray mantle feathers of the back are developed in gulls in their third or fourth year after a time of grayish of brownish transformation.

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