This beautiful, sleek bird is named after both its favorite berry and the unique “waxy” red tips that adorn the ends of the wings. It is thought that the waxtips indicate the bird's age: Part of the mating ritual includes sideways hopping, which researchers believe allows the birds to eye each other's wings. Older birds have more red tips, and younger birds have fewer. The birds eventually pair up with an individual bearing a similar number of waxtips.
The bird’s elegance stands in contrast to its voracious appetite. A flock can wipe out an entire crop of berries within days, stuffing themselves until they are incapable of flight. These birds are so intent on their prize that if a berry clutch can only be reached by a single bird, others will perch in a “berry brigade” and pass the berries down the line until all the birds have eaten.
This bird is among the Top 10 most banded species in the station’s 50-year history. A waxwing recovered in Central America in 1972 was the first record of this species south of the states, and one recovered in Guatemala is among the station's most distant recoveries. Carnegie researchers have also published a definitive paper explaining variations in tail-tip color due to a diet of berries from an introduced species of honeysuckle.
Photo: Robert Royse