A Symphony of Winter: Celebrating the Unique Plumage of the Bohemian Waxwing

Nature provides us with many beautiful sights, from dazzling flowers to stunning sunsets. But few birds rival the grace and beauty of the Bohemian Waxwing. This middling sized passerine bird, with its cinnamon tones, crest of wax-like filaments and quirky personality, is one of the most visually stunning birds in North America.

The Bohemian Waxwing’s plumage features a complex palette of browns, grays and black. The head, nape and breast are shades of cinnamon and rust, while the upperparts are gray-brown. What really sets this bird apart are the pale yellow to silvery gray wax-like tips on the secondary feathers, called “waxwings”.

These soft filaments give the bird a ethereal, otherworldly quality. At certain angles when the wings are spread, they appear to glow.

The Bohemian Waxwing also sports an erectile crest of yellow to orange feathers on the crown of the head that can raise dramatically, particularly during breeding season and when excited.

The bird’s face is pale gray with a black “mask” around the eyes, and the bill is stout and yellow to orange tipped with black. When in flight, the bright underwings and erratic movements provide further flashes of color and whimsy.

The habits of the waxwing also lend themselves to spectacle. These birds often gather in large flocks after breeding season, with numbers in the hundreds or even thousands not uncommon.

When food sources are located, these great flocks descend and fill trees like a wave of color. They also beg from one another, form train lines to feed on berries and dance, swoop and tumble through the air in graceful unison. There’s an almost playful quality to the Bohemian Waxwing’s nature.

The waxwings’ diet also enhances their display. Berries and fruit are their primary food source, so as they migrate and gather, they feast on crimson haws, bright red dogwood berries and clusters of yellow crab apples. As they feed, their crests and wax wings become splashed with vibrant color, heightening their aesthetic appeal and giving them an almost carnivalesque air.

But the most aesthetic moments occur when the Bohemian Waxwing freezes, motionless upon the branch. In this stillness, their coloring becomes heightened, the wax-like tips glowing, head crest raised. They appear like creatures from mythology. Due to their relatively short wings, they launch suddenly into the air on erratic, swooping flights, giving observers sudden, dramatic glimpses of color.

Overall, the Bohemian Waxwing embodies grace, playfulness and aesthetic delight. No matter how many times I see a flock of these birds, their stunning plumage, lively nature and flashes of color never fail to delight and move me. These aesthetic wonders remind us that beauty lies all around us, even in the smallest avian nomads that pass through our worlds for just a season.

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