Cedar Waxwings Disregard Social Distancing

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Photo by Joan Heffernan

The cedar waxwing always sports a black mask.

As spring morphed into summer, I continued feeding the birds long past my usual time. Let’s face it, it had been an endless stretch on house arrest, and I was hanging on to the birds as a way to elevate my spirits. My friends were long since sick of their virtual relationship with me. And, I was threatened by their resourcefulness. Some were madly making quilts, baskets out of willow branches, learning a new language, and cooking gourmet meals. I was too busy wringing my hands to do many get-ahead activities and not one ounce of creativity was channeled into anything coming out of this kitchen. I had also divided my friends, unbeknownst to them, into several categories on the calm versus frantic sliding scale. Thus, I was reaching out more and more to those zen-like people on my list, looking for them to walk me off the ledge and letting the others fall by the wayside. There were definitely some surprises within my gang. The “life of the party” friends turned out to be a great letdown during lockdown. I guess they couldn’t really function with their wings clipped, let alone console their pathetic friend. At home, of course, I kept my nose pressed to the glass sizing up the mood and social distancing at my feeder. It seems like the pair of cardinals were real rule followers keeping their distance from other birds, with no lollygagging. The downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, and red-bellied woodpeckers mostly adhered to the six-foot rule. Blue jays, chickadees and titmice made brief solitary visits and were always wary of other visitors. Throwing caution to the wind, a large flock of goldfinch, mob scene fashion, spent their days under our feeders and in our trees. It made me wonder if it was more difficult for the flashy birds like the goldfinch to distance when they are so darn cute.

Now that the feeders are empty, I look to the skies for my feathered friends. One of my favorites this time of year is the elegant cedar waxwing. For sure, cedar waxwings are not too keen on social distancing. They arrive on masse in treetops and berry bushes around town, appearing to be having the time of their lives as they congregate. They announce their arrival with a high-pitched whistle, which does not do justice to their lovely understated presence. And, holding court from the tops of our trees, they make a splendid sight. The cedar waxwings are a tannish bird with a black mask and yellow band on its tail. They have a crest, and the tips of their wing feathers are red. The waxwing is an elegant bird, and if you hear that whistle, it is worth stopping and craning your neck to take a look. About now, they are busy raising chicks and getting them ready for life in the skies.

 I remember when my kids were young and we had a berry bush right outside the window of our nursery. When the berries were ripe, the waxwings would descend, and the kids would all be lined up at the window clutching their blankies checking out the bird action at eye level. (One of those kids, who shall remain nameless, came up with a little jingle years later; something about birds being very boring. (I like to remind said child of that, especially when he emails me pictures of birds at his feeder to identify.) So the sight of a waxwing, mouth stuffed with berries, brings me back to those days with little ones in the nursery. The worry then was a pirate with a hook and some crocodile who swallowed a clock. I’d take that scenario any day.

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