J. Darris Mitchell
Bird of the Week: 01/31/2023
The Cedar Waxwing is one of the handful of birds I knew existed before I became a birder in 2016. They are a beautiful bird, with a crest as soft as a paintbrush, a black mask lined in white, and delicate, silky feathers that transition from the brown on their back to the yellow on its belly so smoothly it almost defies comprehension. And as if this wasn’t enough, the tip of their tail is tipped with just a dab of lemon yellow, and they have bright red waxy tips on their wings as well. They are an absolute treat when they are in Central Texas for the winter months.
I didn’t really know how beautiful they were until I picked up a pair of binoculars to see them up close, because they tend to stay in treetops unless they are coming down to eat fruit, their favorite food.
There are some instances though, in which they come much closer, and my sons and I were lucky enough to live through one of those events in late January.
I was looking for ducks and the boys were making piles of cypress needles and lichen like the nature nerds I have raised them to be. We were together, but all doing our own things, which is one of my favorite ways to enjoy nature. My kids often point out odd mushrooms or bugs or a neat stick while I’m looking elsewhere, and I endeavor to point out birds to them that they won’t need binoculars to fully appreciate. Oftentimes our interests don’t fully align—I don’t see what they see in many of the rocks they insist on bringing home and they couldn’t care less about tiny warblers in the treetops—but there are some pretty wonderful moments when we come together to watch a line of ants bringing leaves home for example, or appreciate a particularly brightly colored flower.
I looked up when I heard the thin whistle of forty or so cedar waxwings all come into a tree together. The boys were directly below them, oblivious to these beautiful birds right above them. I tried to point them out, but I need not have bothered.
The waxwings spotted a buffet of fallen fruit—Chinese tallow, I believe—and descended on the bounty, one by one at first, but then altogether.
“Guys, look!” I shouted with as much unashamed Dad vibes as I could muster.
The kids were delighted to see that the waxwings were no longer high above, but were all around them, on low branches, knobby roots, and even the ground itself. They had judged my children safe and thus treated them as they would any other large clumsy mammal: with wary indifference.
My kids gaped as more birds came to join the flock. Ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, and chipping sparrows all joined in with the waxwings to forage near the patch of grass that my kids had been working to clear. They weren’t all interested in the berries, but instead bounced around foraging for seeds or insects, or whatever was on the menu for the day.
I spun in place, trying to count and identify as many birds as I could, and knowing that I had missed as many as I had counted twice.
My kids eyes stayed wide as the flurry of birds did not abate or slow, but after a minute or two, they went back to their task of sorting cypress needles and lichen.
It was a magic moment for me, and I feared that my kids didn’t fully appreciate how awesome it was, given that after a minute or two they went right back to sweeping cypress needles, but my oldest son has recounted it multiple times to me since then, each retelling almost more magical than the experience itself if only because I get to see it through their eyes, and know that even if they follow interests into worlds beyond birds, they’ll always remember the Cedar Waxwing.