Friday, July 08, 2011

Berry red

It's berry time! The salmonberries and thimbleberries are ripening; I tasted the first orange salmonberries of the season last week. Wild strawberries are hiding modestly in the grass. The blackberries are still green, but they'll be red and then black any day now. And along the roadside near Centennial Beach, thickets of red elderberry bushes droop under their heavy crop of tiny, scarlet berries. I've never eaten these, although the BC native peoples did. But when I had chickens, they would come running, squawking excitedly, whenever they saw me coming with an armful. It was their favourite food.

Cedar waxwings love them, too. At the Centennial Beach duck pond, a flock of waxwings has replaced the redwing blackbirds that nested in the reeds earlier. Berry heaven starts just beyond the parking lot, and the protein that enriches their summer diet hovers over the pond on dragonfly wings, with the waxwings in pursuit, swooping rather like slow swallows. And there is that handy dead willow to perch on.

Adult cedar waxwing, with the crest raised.

Back view. Yellow belly and yellow tip of the tail feathers.

Why are they called Cedar waxwings? First, because they eat cedar berries in winter. And waxwing? Look:

What's that red stuff?

On some birds, the tips of the wing feathers, mostly secondaries, secrete a brilliant red wax from the feather shafts. The older waxwings produce more, as well as having more yellow on the tip of the tail. If you enlarge the photo above, you can see a hint of red wax on the tail feathers, too; this is less common.

The tips protrude beyond the feathery part of the wing. This bird has seven tips on each wing (see it full size); this is the average, but they may have as many as nine.

Bird Vancouver has a good photo of the wing tips, here: scroll down. And the Cornell Lab has more information, including life cycle and waxwing song.


  1. i love these beautiful birds. we get to see them briefly here in texas as they migrate thru.

  2. Seriously? I have NEVER heard this. That is trippy-cool. And what GREAT photographs! Those guys are SO stylish, they almost make me swoon every time I see them. Hubba hubba! =)


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