Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Wintering-over in Dallas they meet their deaths

Every year, the Cedar Waxwings make their way from Canada to Mexico and back, (their average migration distance is about 2,000 miles and can extend from southern Canada to as far south as Costa Rica and Panama) and they stop in our office atrium to fill up on pyracantha berries. The name waxwing comes from the waxy red appendages found in variable numbers on the tips of the secondary feathers. It is one of the few temperate dwelling birds that specializes in eating fruit. Unlike many birds that regurgitate seeds from fruit they eat, these guys defecate the fruit seeds. The atrium has umbrellas covering the tables and there must be a few gallons of bird dooky on the umbrellas.

Well, the bad thing is that the atrium is surrounded by glass, two stories high, and the berries have fermented. The Cedar Waxwing is vulnerable to alcohol intoxication and death after eating fermented fruit. You get the picture. Drunken birds flying into the window, seeing the reflection of the sky and doing a head-down, full-speed kamakazi run. Broken necks abound. We picked up about 50 this morning, and expect more this week. They get so stoned that the ones that don't break their necks just hop around the perimeter with a dazed look on their faces. They are beautiful birds and I wonder how they spotted our atrium and bar in the first place. Even with the multiple deaths, they continue to visit it every year, with the same result.

Perhaps it's a memory thing with the older birds, passing the information on the the next generation, and so on. One would think that they would pass on to the next generation the fact that it's not safe to imbibe and fly. I guess the ones that learn the lesson, never live to tell the tale, and the ones that watch never get a clue.

Over most of North America, the Cedar Waxwing is the most specialized fruit-eating bird. This bird's primary foods are fleshy fruits that are high in sugar content. Like tropical birds with this diet, Cedar Waxwings are social all year long, they nest in loose clusters, and at times they wander widely in flocks in search of temporarily abundant sources of fruit.

Cedar Waxwings are sleek, elegant birds with long wings, rather short tails, and a crest. They have a short, broad bill and short legs. Both sexes look alike. Adults are buffy brown on the head and back. The brown color shades to pale yellow on the belly and to gray brown on the back, fading further to slate gray on the rump and upper tail. The tail is tipped with a yellow band. The undertail coverts are white. The legs and feet are black. Adults have a narrow, black mask outlined in white that extends over the face to end behind each eye in a point. The chin is black. At the end of each secondary feather, the shaft is extended as a small, red, wax-like appendage. The number of these waxy appendages increases with age, until adult plumage is attained.

Cedar Waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum. Order PASSERIFORMES - Family BOMBYCILLIDAE

The highest concentrations of wintering Cedar Waxwings occur in central Texas in the oak-juniper savanna and in Alabama and eastern Mississippi in stands of juniper, sweet gum, and oak.

Beautiful birds, it's a shame they are into alcohol intoxication. I can look forward to next year's kamakazi bar runs here in Dallas.