Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Yummy yaupon

with 65 comments

You may remember the gorgeously fruitful possumhaws (Ilex decidua) that appeared in these pages three weeks ago. After I posted the second of those pictures to Facebook’s Texas Flora group on January 1st, a member commented that cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) had already stripped her possumhaws and yaupons (Ilex vomitoria) of all their little red fruits (berries in common parlance, drupes scientifically). That Texas Flora comment must have gotten picked up and broadcast on radio station KACW* (Kalling All Cedar Waxwings), because within a couple of hours a gang of those birds showed up at our house and gobbled down more than half the fruit on the yaupon tree outside my window. In today’s picture, which was a good photographic way to inaugurate the new year, you’re looking at one of the avian thieves caught in flagrante delicto. The waxwings came back on January 6th and mostly finished the job, so that now I see only a dozen or so spots of red outside my window, where in December hundreds had been.

* After I made up radio station KACW, I discovered that a real one with those call letters exists in South Bend, Washington. It has a greater range than its operators realize.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 9, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

65 Responses

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  1. That’s an absolutely awesome image! Earlier this week I saw a lone Cedar Waxwing in a Russian Olive tree in my neighborhood. It’s too early and why is it alone were my first thoughts. I’m hoping for more of them to come through if they’re on the move already.

    Early Spring? That was my next thought.

    circadianreflections

    January 9, 2021 at 7:25 AM

    • After the cedar waxwings devour Austin, maybe they’ll head your way. The lone bird you saw could be the advance guard checking out your area.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2021 at 7:34 AM

      • I was thinking it might be the scout. 😀

        circadianreflections

        January 9, 2021 at 7:38 AM

        • Yes, a member of the Bird Scouts, not as well known as but more numerous than the Boy Scouts.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2021 at 7:43 AM

          • Love the idea of the Bird Scouts, hehe! Excellent timing for the photograph…makes a great image. 🙂

            Ann Mackay

            January 9, 2021 at 7:52 AM

            • Yes, my timing worked out in this picture and some others, but the birds’ actions in the food fest were so fast that most of the pictures I took didn’t catch good moments.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 9, 2021 at 8:00 AM

          • LOL!

            circadianreflections

            January 11, 2021 at 8:20 AM

  2. What a charming shot of this lovely bird. I particularly like waxwings, and the way they pass berries (alright, drupes) to each other while murmuring gently. I typically only see them in gangs on their fall migration but that may be a function of where I’m positioned on their flyway.

    melissabluefineart

    January 9, 2021 at 8:13 AM

    • I seem to remember you mentioning the way waxwings pass fruits along to one other. Even with this latest bit of activity right outside my window, I still haven’t gotten to see that behavior. Maybe your waxwings are more altruistic than ours.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2021 at 8:25 AM

      • I’m sorry you haven’t seen it. It is a charming behavior. I suppose it is possible they only do it here.

        melissabluefineart

        January 9, 2021 at 8:30 AM

        • I’ve seen documentaries about animals in which certain behaviors occur in local groups that aren’t universally exhibited by the species, the implication being that those behaviors are learned rather than genetic.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2021 at 8:43 AM

          • Yes absolutely, I’ve seen that as well.

            melissabluefineart

            January 10, 2021 at 8:57 AM

  3. Beautiful capture, Steve, of this action that is just raucous and a fun tale of communication.

    Ellen Jennings

    January 9, 2021 at 8:23 AM

    • I see you did posts about cedar waxwings, too, in 2015 and 2017. Three days before the ones that came to the yaupon outside my window, half a mile away I’d noticed a flock of birds gathered in treetops too far away for me to see them clearly. I think now they must have been cedar waxwings.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2021 at 8:40 AM

      • Wow, that first one was when we lived in CT! I don’t think I’ve seen any since that day 2017, at least not to get any images. I know they have been around from FB posts from local photographers, but it’s very easy to miss their visit!
        Ha, they were coming to scope out, or eat their way through, your neighborhood! Great fun that you got to see them.

        Ellen Jennings

        January 10, 2021 at 6:32 PM

        • Yes, it was fun, as you know from your own experiences with them. I do hope you have another encounter with them where you are now, given that you’ve seen posts about them.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 10, 2021 at 9:14 PM

  4. That is a beautiful photo of cedar waxwing and fruit (haw in maw?), Steve. Good catch!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 9, 2021 at 9:29 AM

  5. I love Cedar Waxwings and am happy to learn they now have their own radio station.

    artsofmay

    January 9, 2021 at 9:52 AM

  6. Perfect shot! Those waxwings are hard to get, because they’re always with buddies, flapping wings in motion!

    Tina

    January 9, 2021 at 10:09 AM

    • I faced multiple obstacles, particularly the darting in and out and then the quick body movements even after a waxwing had landed. Leaves and branches sometimes blocked my view of a bird I was trying to photograph. To compensate for the movements I set my camera to rapid-fire mode in hopes that one of the pictures in a burst would catch just the right moment, and some of the time that’s what happened.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2021 at 10:38 AM

  7. Greetings from one of your avian thieves!
    [https://www.flickr.com/photos/130447299@N05/19536057249/in/dateposted-public/]

    Peter Klopp

    January 9, 2021 at 11:57 AM

    • Yup, that’s the culprit, all right. You managed to show the bright red and yellow patches that waxwings have on them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2021 at 2:07 PM

  8. Down the hatch! 😉

    Eliza Waters

    January 9, 2021 at 6:10 PM

  9. That’s a fun shot! I wish the cedar waxwings were more common, I’ve only seen them once or twice in my life, they seem like pretty merry little bandits, don’t they.

    Robert Parker

    January 9, 2021 at 6:39 PM

  10. tee hee ‘vomit – oria’

    tonytomeo

    January 9, 2021 at 8:01 PM

    • It was believed that drinking quantities of yaupon tea would cause people to throw up, hence the species name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2021 at 8:26 PM

      • In school, we were told that that ancient Romans ate the berries to induce vomiting in their vomitoriums so that they could feast more. It never occurred to us that the species is not endemic to the Roman Empire.

        tonytomeo

        January 9, 2021 at 8:45 PM

        • Sounds like some teacher(s) mistook the south-central United States for a province of the Roman empire.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 10, 2021 at 6:13 AM

          • Maybe he did not expect to be taken seriously.

            tonytomeo

            January 10, 2021 at 11:03 PM

            • Or maybe he was referring to a European species of holly.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 11, 2021 at 7:57 AM

              • That is not the sort of name that is mistaken for something else. Apparently, the name is derived from . . . what it sounds like it was derived from, but because the Natives of North American were thought to have used it as such, rather than ancient Romans. (As it was, it may have been consumed in conjunction with other herbs that caused the . . . effect.)

                tonytomeo

                January 11, 2021 at 7:26 PM

  11. Awe delightful 🙏👌

    sloppy buddhist

    January 9, 2021 at 8:17 PM

  12. Beautiful bird!!

    norasphotos4u

    January 9, 2021 at 9:07 PM

  13. 😅. Great morning news flash … I’m still chuckling! And I always thought Cedar Waxwings were such elegant, well-mannered birds.

    Birder's Journey

    January 10, 2021 at 7:08 AM

  14. Every year I hope for another visit from waxwings, but I’ve only seen them here twice. I know that they’re often sighted north of Houston proper; they may well be in my neighborhood but, as you noted, they can discover a food source, strip a tree of its fruits, and be gone in a flash. Even twenty birds can make quick work of things.

    On the other hand, I saw the same behavior yesterday afternoon when a large flock of robins descended on a local Chinese tallow tree and began eating its seeds. Unfortunately, I only had my macro lens with me, but I’m hoping they’ll still be around tomorrow after the front passes and the sun comes back out. I’ve seen more robins in the past month than I’ve seen in the past decade; they make a fine substitute for waxwings.

    shoreacres

    January 10, 2021 at 9:54 AM

    • One day in 2019 (I think) we had cedar waxwings and robins here together. I guess you could call it a kind of time-share, feeding-frenzy-wise. I sure hope your best-in-a-decade robins come back tomorrow so you can have a crack at them with a telephoto lens. With the cedar waxwings I put my camera in rapid-fire mode, and that allowed me to get a few pictures at just the right moment. If your camera has that setting, you may want to use it some of the time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2021 at 9:06 PM

  15. […] I took the photograph above looking out our front window at a yaupon tree (Ilex vomitoria) that the cedar waxwings had left […]

  16. So THAT’S what a cedar waxwing looks like! I’d recorded a flock of them 1/8 and uploaded to YT (“Eye-caught Snippet, Tree-flocked birds and ambling deer, 1/8/2021”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXqz2DXQ0d4) and asked around for ID help. A birder told me the birds were cedar waxwings and they flocked at their privet twice a year.

    I hadn’t thought to aim wherever they visited during swarmy short flights. Also, couldn’t zoom closer. Hmm, shoulda tried taking a high-res still or more.

    whilldtkwriter

    January 11, 2021 at 7:58 AM

    • I did take some still pictures similar to your video but even with a 400mm lens I couldn’t tell what species they were (someone who knows birds might have recognized them from their profile, as in your case). After the yaupon activity at my house three days later I realized the birds in the treetops must have been cedar waxwings. They could still be around, so you might yet get a closer look this season. If not, you’ll know to be on the lookout at the same time next year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 11, 2021 at 8:11 AM

  17. Into the gaping maw of a cedar waxwing. It’s amazing to watch a flock enter a bountiful fruited tree and strip it of its berries. Yummy indeed.

    Steve Gingold

    January 13, 2021 at 4:57 PM

    • And yummy a few of the photographs I managed to get through my window. The glass isn’t the cleanest, so I had to do some work in Photoshop.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2021 at 5:00 PM

  18. Excellent timing, Steve! I’m a huge Cedar Waxwing fan so I hope you’re not too mad at them.

    bluebrightly

    January 14, 2021 at 1:50 PM

    • No, I’m accustomed to their depredations, though I’m sorry to see only a very few of the colorful yaupon drupes outside my window now. At least I got a few pictures out of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2021 at 1:55 PM

  19. Great shot … that’s a mouthful!

    Julie@frogpondfarm

    January 16, 2021 at 3:25 PM


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