Seldom in storied numbers in our neck of the woods, waxwings are pleasant outdoor companions. There are two species of waxwings in North America: the cedar waxwing and the bohemian waxwing. Although the two species overlap in occurrence in Jackson Hole at times, they tend to be in separate flocks. The waxwings are similar in appearance and habits, yet are pretty easily distinguished.

Here’s what Sibley says about waxwings: “Medium-sized, berry-eating songbirds of open woods, hedgerows and orchards, waxwings have sleek gray and brown plumage and an erectile head crest. Their bodies are plump and their wings pointed. They have small legs and feet, and a small, wide, notched bill. The medium-length square tail has a terminal yellow band. Both North American species have high, thin calls. Waxwings form cohesive flocks. Their flight is strong, and flocks may turn abruptly in unison.

Waxwings are attractive, often easy to approach, and favorites of wildlife photographers. Tom Mangelsen has an extensive portfolio of waxwings, some of which are included in “Winter Wings,” a book of Jackson Hole winter birds by me and Tom. The description of waxwings in that book is as follows:

“Cedar waxwings are resident in the Northern Rockies, nesting as far north, in fact, as Canada’s Northwest Territories. Bohemian waxwings nest even farther north, to the vicinity of the Arctic and Bering seas.

“Both species tend to be wanderers, searching for fruits, fresh or dried: crabapples, rose hips, cedar and juniper berries, hawthorn, mountain ash and the like. In winter, they travel in flocks, often large ones not infrequently comprised of members of each species, remaining in one area until the food supply runs low, moving on and on yet again.”

Many generations of waxwings ago I read a description of the cedar waxwing that impressed me for its old-fashioned flowery style and accuracy:

“Who can describe the marvelous beauty and elegance of this bird? What other dressed in a robe of such delicate beauty and silky texture? Those shades of blending beauty, velvety black, shifting saffrons, Quaker drabs, pale blue and slate trimmings of white and golden yellow, and the little red appendages on the wing, not found in any other family of birds, all combined with its graceful form, give the bird an appearance of elegance and distinction peculiarly its own.” — E.H. Forbush

Yeah, but they don’t sing well.

Neither do their larger cousins, the bohemian waxwings. However, they have pretty much all of the above, plus rusty, salmon-colored under-tail coverts, and white and yellow wing markings.

Field Notes: On March 5, Leine Stikkel welcomed a mixed flock of over 50 cedar and bohemian waxwings up Cache Creek. So far this winter reports of waxwings have been meager. However, it is time to look and listen for these berry- and fruit-eating birds.

Early migrants pop up here and there: robins, red-winged blackbirds, house finches, goldfinches and a sandhill crane observed on Spring Gulch Road. The first report of a mountain bluebird came in — a true harbinger of spring.

Breaking news: Tracy Blue saw two tree swallows and two sandhill cranes Sunday morning on the National Elk Refuge. In Teton Valley, Idaho, Rick Seivers welcomed back a Swainson’s hawk and northern harrier. Susan Patla saw the first Cassin’s finch (a male) at her Idaho feeder.

Last week’s photo of a northern pygmy owl, published in this column feeding on an Eurasian collared dove, was attributed to the wrong person. Martha Preston, who lives south of Jackson, took that lovely photo on her deck.

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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