The other morning our yard was filled with the sound of a large flock of several hundred waxwings, all perched in the tops of our two elm trees. I could hear them from inside the house, and when I went outside, the sound was very loud indeed. As we watched, the flock took flight in a sudden whoosh, circled over the houses once, and then disappeared over the trees. What triggered their sudden departure, I wonder, and how did all of the birds know to take flight all at the same time?
We have two species of waxwings in British Columbia, and after looking closely at my photos, I have decided that these were likely Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) because of the red colour on the underside of their tail (technically called their undertail coverts). These birds are not unusual visitors to the interior of the province in the winter, and frequently visit in large flocks. They are fond of berries, especially the bright red berries of mountain-ash. We have a small mountain-ash in our yard, but these waxwings remained in the tops of the elms for the short time that they were in our yard. Waxwings are so named because of the thickened red spots they have on their secondary wing feathers; the colour of these spots actually comes from the colourful berries they eat. They breed further to the north in my province, so we usually only see them at this time of year, when they come south in search of food.
The birds were far enough away in the treetops that I couldn’t get a close-up photo, but this photo shows you a few more details of their beautiful plumage. I love the different poses that the birds are demonstrating in this photo: some of them with sleeked feathers and looking (apparently) straight at me, others with feathers fluffed and grooming themselves. I also love that you can see the buds on the branches of the elm tree in this photo – yet another promise of the coming spring, even at the beginning of winter.