Thirty-four New England winters have hardened any hope I have that March will glimmer with spring. But the birds more tuned to subtle shifts in sunlight are awakened by the cracking of the ice. Cedar waxwings winter in New England, feeding on crab apples and choke cherries. Flocks of waxwings descend on fruit trees to gobble the dried and shrunken head fruits with jaw bending elasticity.
Like the groundhog’s shadow the presence of waxwings may only be a psychological sign that winter is waning, but their high pitched calls, polished golden feathers and yellow tipped tails lighten even the greyest piles of snow.
photo by Anne Greene
Waxwings have an exotic look, and well they should as they represent one of only three species found worldwide in the family “Bombycillidae”. The size of a cardinal, with a shorter tail, at a distance they appear grey or black like a European starling and so are often overlooked. But, get a close look at these sleek birds and they give the impression of a shape-shifting magician, the way Sherlock Holmes would have thrown off cloak and false beard transforming in plain sight from street urchin to genteel sleuth.
Though one of the few song birds without a song, their steady high pitched calls can be heard from a distance and queuing into to this dog whistle of a call is the best way to know when waxwings are around.
is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org