Cedar Waxwings Hawking Insects

While the last couple of mornings have been crisp and cool, this morning the air felt balmy when I first stepped outside. It was going to be a very warm day, the forecast for the afternoon, an unseasonable high of 86 degrees. But it was still pretty, softly sunny, blue sky and high, distant white clouds, and lots of flowering trees and shrubs, and singing birds. 

Two birds were hawking insects from the branches of pecan trees in a neighbor’s yard – and when I took a closer look, I was surprised to see two brilliantly colorful Cedar Waxwings. The two repeatedly flew from low branches to catch insects in flight. Some they caught in the air, and several times they flew down and skimmed the top of the grass to catch insects there.

When they sat on a branch, their plumage showed uncommonly clear and vivid in detail, glowing in the morning sun and looking as smooth and polished as silk – a soft rose-brown on the head and chest, with lemon-yellow bellies, and gray wings tipped in waxy-red and tails edged in yellow. Sleek black masks outlined in white surrounded their eyes. And their crests were each fluffed up into rose-brown tufts. I watched them for several minutes as they continued to fly off, catch insects, and fly back to a perch. One sat for a long time on a branch, turning its head from one side to another and all around.

Cedar Waxwings feed mostly on fruits and berries of many kinds, but – as I learned after looking it up – they also eat insects, often caught in flight like this. So it’s not unusual behavior, but I haven’t often seen it. They are so strikingly colorful, and the lighting was perfect, and their flight graceful, it almost felt like watching a ballet. 

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