Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Cedar waxwings and possumhaws

with 54 comments

Cedar Waxwing Grabbing Possumhaw Drupe 1613B

February 15 of 2010 was a good photographic day for me. I’d gone behind an office building on Capital of Texas Highway where I knew some possumhaw trees, Ilex decidua, were covered with small red fruits (technically called drupes). Once I got to the trees, though, my goal of photographing them in their own right quickly gave way to a new one, namely to photograph the cedar waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum, that had also discovered the possumhaws and were feasting on the many fruits.

Birds often make for difficult subjects because they move so quickly, and that was the case here. Although I did manage to get some pictures in which a cedar waxwing came out sharp and was even caught open-mouthed right in the act of swallowing a drupe (yay me!), I’ve made a considered editorial decision—which is to say I’ve done what I feel like doing—to show you a photograph in which one of the birds was moving so fast that parts of it came out a little blurred. Still, I like the way the fluttering of the wing at the right and the lunging of the bird’s head suggest the rapid movement involved in snatching one of the drupes from a twig.

When I went back the next day, by the way, the possumhaws had been stripped bare of all their fruit.


I’m away from home. You’re welcome to leave comments, but please understand if I’m slow in responding.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 15, 2015 at 5:50 AM

54 Responses

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  1. I love imperfections for many reasons, including that every artist tries and that in any run of attempts, there is a ‘failure’, which is really just another step in the process. I can be less harsh towards myself. I can get to thinking that I am the only one, rolls eyes at self.


    February 15, 2015 at 7:19 AM

    • Not the only one at all, Elisa. In this case the successes gave me “cover” for what might be a slight technical failing but that I still like. I’d have been rolling eyes at myself if I hadn’t managed to get at least one sharp image out of the many I took.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2015 at 12:56 PM

  2. Now this photo with its vibrant colored berries stirred up memories of what a possumhaw is.


    February 15, 2015 at 7:20 AM

    • Happy memories, Georgette. Let’s hope you get to supplement them with new and equally vibrant possumhaw encounters.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2015 at 12:59 PM

  3. I’ve read accounts of cedar waxwings getting drunk on fermented fruits. They get a little crazy.

    Jim in IA

    February 15, 2015 at 7:24 AM

  4. The wing movement adds to the bright red in offering us up here in the frozen Northeast some small signs of life.

    Marcia Levy

    February 15, 2015 at 8:23 AM

    • Yikes. I see the forecast for New York today is a high of 27° and a low of 1°. It’s time to say “Come on down!” (once we get back).

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2015 at 1:02 PM

  5. Those berries do look very attractive against the blue sky. I’m surprised they have lasted this long! And I like the blur motion. He looks like a very hungry fella 🙂


    February 15, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    • It’s not unusual for the fruits to last into February, Jude, nor is it unusual for the trees to begin leafing out by the end of the month. From the waxwing action I saw, I’d say that all of the birds in the group seemed ravenous.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2015 at 1:16 PM

  6. Nicely done and well said about editorial decisions. These are lovely birds, as are most, and the mask and tail edging are nicely seen here.
    Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying your trip.

    Steve Gingold

    February 15, 2015 at 9:02 AM

    • Thanks, Steve, for letting me know you agree with my editorial decision. I’ve managed to get some pictures of native birds here in New Zealand, but I haven’t checked to see how many are successes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2015 at 1:20 PM

      • So you and Gary have both visited NZ this month. Lucky guys.

        Steve Gingold

        February 15, 2015 at 2:14 PM

      • I didn’t know you were in NZ, too–we might have been able to cross paths! But then again, our visits probably didn’t overlap. Ah, well, maybe next time…


        February 15, 2015 at 4:07 PM

        • I noticed you were here too, and thought about what a coincidence that was, but our stays didn’t intersect.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 15, 2015 at 8:24 PM

  7. Beautiful photos! I love cedar waxwings.

    Lavinia Ross

    February 15, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    • They’re great birds to photograph. I haven’t seen any this year, but maybe I still will.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 15, 2015 at 1:26 PM

  8. I love waxwings, they’ve always intrigued me. I appreciate your action in this photo as well, it’s putting its work in to get that drupe. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from posting a before and after of the tree plus/minus its fruits. Nice capture. 🙂


    February 15, 2015 at 3:37 PM

    • The tree looked so barren the next day that I never thought about taking a picture of it, but that would’ve been a good comparison.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 17, 2015 at 1:01 PM

  9. Btw, following that link to your sharp Waxwing photo, that’s so beautiful and funny. I like how plump it looks while it’s swallowing down a drupe, now how can you enjoy your food like that! Great job capturing the sharpness of their color and the tell-tale “waxy” look. 😀


    February 15, 2015 at 3:55 PM

  10. Oh that’s wonderful!

    Sarah Longes - Mirador Design

    February 15, 2015 at 5:22 PM

  11. Yay, you is right! I remember so well my own efforts trying to catch a cedar waxwing in the act of eating, and my failure gives me extra appreciation for your success!

    Susan Scheid

    February 15, 2015 at 5:26 PM

    • I’ve had plenty of failures in trying to photograph birds, Susan, so I relish every success.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 17, 2015 at 1:05 PM

  12. Like you, I actually quite like the way that the blurring shows movement. After all, that’s the way the human eyes naturally view fast action. I love the vibrant red colour of the fruit against the blue background. I find the overall picture very pleasing.


    February 16, 2015 at 3:40 AM

    • I’m with you on all counts, Jane. You’ll get no static from me about the static portrayal of the dynamic in this dynamo of a bird.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2015 at 12:23 PM

  13. I’m so fond of the waxwings, and so rarely get to see them, that your photos are a real treat. I very much like the sense of movement in this one. It certainly seems to capture “essence of waxwing.” They seem to fly in, strip whatever fruit is around, and depart — all in a day. They’re busy birds, for sure, and I like the way you’ve captured that.


    February 16, 2015 at 6:19 AM

    • I rarely get to see them either, Linda. Apparently they pass through around this time of year and then are gone: sounds like a metaphor for our lives, doesn’t it? A few springs ago I saw a flock of them in a tree in my neighborhood, minus any obvious connection to possumhaws.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2015 at 12:33 PM

  14. If I were a waxwing I would be equally inclined to strip the possumhaws bare. The fruit looks utterly delicious, even to a non-bird, like me.


    February 16, 2015 at 6:35 AM

    • I think you’d be wise to stick to Cape gooseberries—thanks for the introduction—because the possumhaw fruits would probably give you a bad stomach ache, or worse. It’s another instance of cherish but don’t chew.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2015 at 12:37 PM

  15. An amazing photo, caught in the act, during a split second. You have to act quickly to get a shot like this one.

    Mary Mageau

    February 16, 2015 at 5:38 PM

  16. I love these birds but have yet had a chance to photograph one. The bit of blur works nicely


    February 17, 2015 at 6:15 PM

    • I like the sound of “a bit of blur,” Nora. One reason I spend so much time in nature is to increase the likelihood of encounters like this one with the waxwings.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2015 at 12:41 PM

  17. As I was reading this post, I heard a Cardinal begin singing outside my window. Yay!!! Perhaps I’ve weathered another one, and will live to tell the tale.
    I agree with your executive decision.. the bit of blur is a better representation of these charmers than stilled perfection.


    March 7, 2015 at 9:24 AM

    • We sometimes hear a cardinal in front of our house, but I haven’t noticed it any time recently. It was temporarily replaced by the magical and musical (piccolo-like) call of a tui bird in Whangaparaoa on our last night in New Zealand. In any case, happy cardinal as a token of spring to you.

      Oh, I was just reminded that I showed this cardinal picture to someone in New Zealand and found he’d never seen or even heard about a cardinal and was quite impressed by the appearance of such a bright red bird. We in America have our share of treasures too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 7, 2015 at 9:46 AM

  18. It is amazing to watch these beautiful birds in what can only be described as a feeding frenzy!


    January 9, 2019 at 7:09 PM

  19. You take such nice and vivid pictures!

    M.B. Henry

    February 19, 2019 at 5:42 PM

    • Getting close is important. Having something as vividly red as possumhaw fruit also helps. And in this case the bird stole the show.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 19, 2019 at 9:21 PM

  20. […] as well. For whatever reason, these yaupon-devouring cedar waxwings proved more skittish than the ones I photographed nine years earlier, and the light was dull, so I didn’t get pictures as good as on that other occasion. […]

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