Tuesday, April 2, 2013

South Burlington Birds: Bohemian Waxwing Raid and Small Guest-true story.

                              Small Guest.
                                         Revised 2007 true story.
*Edited, and published by Watching Backyard Birds-newsletter vol 16 no. 4 , Aug 2013. 

You may not believe this coincidence, but I have the photographic proof-at least I will once the film is developed.  

          Friday morning, an article on Cedar Waxwings told me that the birds are late breeders. They wait for summer fruits to ripen before initiating breeding, the article proclaimed. Little did I know that I would learn even more about cedar waxwings before the end of the day.

          Sunny blue skies and  warm mid-70's temperatures enticed me and the dogs, Elliot and Cat, to sit in the backyard-me with a book and the dogs with whatever flew or scampered by them within range of their tethered reach. Soon I became aware of Cat’s seldom-heard barking. Pulling at her leash, she appeared eager to chase what I first assumed to be a chipmunk somewhere nearby. However, as I followed her intense glare to a nearby crabapple tree a few yards out of her reach, I noticed something gray nestled low on the tree trunk. Stepping closer, I determined that a small bird had provoked Cat’s behavior.

          Upon closer inspection, this small critter appeared to be a cedar waxwing. The symptoms it showed might be consistent with injury, being lost, or-strange as it sounds-being drunk. In fact, waxwings do sometimes become intoxicated from eating fermented fruit.

     After calming Cat, I returned to my seat in the middle of the yard about 30 feet from the bird. After watching it for a while, both Cat and I both let our attention wander as we enjoyed the warm sun and gentle breeze. Glancing back toward the bird, I spotted it flying from its low perch toward the house and, then, right into the side of the house-not hard, though. It fluttered to the ground. I assumed the flowering bushes and roses would be good cover for this misguided winged guest, and so I did not venture to disturb the seemingly lost fledgling.

          My guest apparently felt I was not paying enough attention.  The ungainly winged creature brushed against me while flying on further gown the yard and landing on top of a bench beneath our serviceberry tree. Now interested, I walked over to the bird, fully expecting it to take flight before I reached the bench. Yet, having moved to within an arms length of the stationary bird, it gave little notice of discomfort. I raced inside to retrieve my camera in hopes of getting a close-up picture.  

          The bird was still there patiently posing, or maybe sleeping. Moving as close as the focus would allow, I captured my guest on film. Still it ventured not. I slowly reached a cautious finger across the inches between us and stroked its feathery back ever so gently. The only reaction from the bird was a slight turn of its head and a lifted eyelid as if to say “First you leave me unattended, then you disturb my siesta”. Intrigued by its unnerving calmness, I offered my forefinger as an optional perch,  which the bird accepted, stepping gingerly onto my appendage.

          Now fully enthralled by the whole experience-as if I had stepped into the rabbit hole with Alice- I wondered what was up with this unusual bird behavior. There was no sign of injury. Even more surprising, my new companion remained nestled on my finger.
     After I  walked back across the lawn, I searched the serviceberry tree for a remaining berry to no avail. We then walked-well I walked, the bird came along for the ride- over to the blueberry bushes, finding one half-ripe berry. Apparently blueberries are not on this bird's diet or the berry was just not ripe enough. After that, I settled in my chair and resumed petting the bird as though it were a household pet. Swatting a small insect on my arm allowed me to offer my guest something with a bit more protein. Resting the insect on my palm was enough of a dinner bell for the bird that pecked it out of my free hand. I imagined the waxwing saying “Thanks, how about five or six more?”

          Nearly an hour since my guest’s appearance, I stepped into the house, bird and all, to check the time. No hint of distress. Then, after about 30 minutes resting on my finger, the four-and-a-half inch bird flew from my finger over to the grapevine. I had hoped my friend would stay until Barbara came home so I could reassure myself I was not dreaming the whole time.  However, I was glad the bird realized this might be the wrong house, and I might not be its cousin after all. I hope it matures into its wild and cautious nature.

          I think I will write to the publisher of that article to advise them that not all Cedar Waxwing’s have a sweet tooth for berries. I can attest to that first hand, thanks to my brave, if somewhat intoxicated little visitor. 

Edited version published in Watching Backyard Birds-newsletter vol 16 no. 4 , Aug 2013 http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/publications/wbbn/latesummer2013/index.php#                                                            
More photos of waxwings below, but first a few other visitors.                              


                            Three male Brown-Headed Cowbirds visited our backyard on April 4, 2013

               The Waxwings below all visited on March 30, 2013.







 Happy Birding!