The waxwing is a small passerine bird, which can be found in central Russia both in summer and in winter. Although she prefers to live in the forest, she can also get out to settlements, sometimes causing damage to crops in gardens. But this is balanced by the benefits brought by the waxwing – it destroys many insects, including harmful ones.
Origin of the species and description
First birds evolved from reptiles – archosaurs . This happened about 160 million years ago, scientists have different theories as to which of the archosaurs became their ancestors. It will be possible to establish this precisely only after the transitional forms closest to them are found in the form of fossils.
Until such a discovery happened – the same famous Archeopteryx, previously considered a transitional form, is in fact already quite far from flightless archosaurs, which means that other species should have existed between them. In any case, the most ancient birds were arranged quite differently compared to those that inhabit the planet now.
Those species that have survived to this day began to emerge much later, in the Paleogene – that is, after the milestone of 65 million years BC, when a mass extinction occurred. It spurred evolution, including birds – competition greatly weakened, entire niches were vacated, which began to be filled with new species.
At the same time, the first passerines appeared – namely, the waxwing is referred to them. The oldest fossils of passerines are found in the southern hemisphere, they are about 50-55 million years old. It is assumed that for a long time they lived only in the southern hemisphere, since their fossils in the northern hemisphere date back to 25-30 million years at the earliest.
The waxwing appeared after the passerines made this migration, and now inhabits only Eurasia and North America. The common waxwing was described by K. Linnaeus in 1758 under the name Bombycilla garrulus.
In total, 9 species of waxwing were previously identified, united in the family of the same name, but then it was found that the differences between them are very large, and they were divided into two: waxwing and silky waxwings.
Appearance look and feel
This bird is quite small: 19-22 cm long, and weighs 50-65 grams. It is distinguished by a large tuft. The tone of the feathers is gray with a pinkish tint, the wings are black, have pronounced white and yellow stripes. The bird also has a black throat and tail. There is a yellow stripe along the edge of the tail, and a white stripe along the edge of the wing.
These small stripes, together with the pink color, give the bird a variegated and even exotic look for a temperate climate. If you look at the secondary flight feathers from a close distance, you can see that their tips are red. Chicks are yellow-chestnut, and young birds that have not yet molted have brown-gray feathers.
The waxwing has a wide and short beak, legs with curved claws – they are used to cling to branches, but to walk on they are uncomfortable for the bird. When flying, it is capable of developing a fairly high speed, usually flying straight, without complex figures and sharp turns.
Interesting fact: These birds can be kept at home, although they are difficult to tame, except perhaps if they start as chicks. But you can not keep them one by one or in cramped cages: they begin to feel sad and become lethargic. In order for the waxwing to feel cheerful and delight with trills, you need to put at least two birds together and give them the opportunity to fly around the cage.
Where does the waxwing live ?
In summer, waxwings live in a wide strip of the taiga zone and adjacent areas, stretching from Europe to Eastern Siberia in Eurasia, and areas with similar weather conditions in North America. They live mainly in forests, prefer coniferous or mixed.
They can also be seen in clearings or in the mountains, if they are overgrown with vegetation. Waxwings live on a large area: they are not picky about the climate, they can live at a variety of heights, from lowlands to mountains. Most of all they love those forests where there are both spruces and birches at the same time.
The most important factor in choosing a habitat for this bird is the presence of a large number of berries. That is why she loves the taiga forests rich in them so much. It can also fly into gardens and peck berries, while even one small bird can cause considerable damage, because it has an excellent appetite.
In winter, waxwings get cold in the taiga, so they make a short trip to the south. Unlike migratory birds that make long journeys for a long time, the waxwing is called a nomadic bird. It flies away very close – usually several hundred kilometers.
It does this only after the snow falls, or the cold stays for a long time – therefore, even in December, they can sometimes be found pecking at frozen berries. They fly away in large flocks, but return when spring comes, but in small groups of 5-10 individuals.
Flights are made only by those waxwings that live in the northern part of the range, the “southerners” remain in place even though snowy winter also sets in in their habitats.
Now you know where the waxwing bird lives. Let's see what she eats.
What does the waxwing eat?
The diet of this bird is varied and consists of both animal and plant foods. The first prevails in summer. At this time, the waxwing actively hunts, primarily for insects.
These can be:
Waxwings are very voracious, moreover, they often fly in flocks, and one of these is capable of destroying most of the harmful insects in the area, after which it flies to a new place. Therefore, waxwings are very useful – if they settle near a settlement, mosquitoes and midges become much smaller.
In particular, waxwings actively exterminate insects during the period when they need to feed their chicks – each such chick makes parents work all day tirelessly, and bring him living creatures – chicks do not eat plant food, but they need a lot to grow.
They also feed on buds, seeds, berries and fruits, prefer:
- rose hip;
And if, eating insects, waxwings bring a lot of benefits, then because of their love for fruits, there is a lot of harm. Appetite does not disappear here either, so they are quite capable of eating bird cherry in a few hours, after which the owners will have nothing to collect from it.
American waxwings are especially scary, flying into the gardens in large flocks, so farmers they are very disliked. They can attack a tree like locusts, sweep away all the berries growing on it, and fly to the next one. Fallen fruits are not picked up from the ground.
These birds are real gluttons: they tend to swallow as much as possible, so they don’t even chew the berries, as a result, they often remain undigested, which contributes to a better distribution of seeds. In the spring, they mainly peck the buds of various trees, and in the winter they switch to a diet of rowan alone and often fly to settlements.
An interesting fact: Such a phenomenon as “drunken waxwings” is associated with gluttony. They peck all the berries without understanding, including those that have already fermented. Due to the fact that they eat a lot, a large amount of alcohol can be in the blood, which is why the bird will move as if drunk. This usually happens in winter, when frozen berries get slightly warmer.
Character and lifestyle features
Usually waxwings settle in flocks and, when there are a lot of them, they whistle loudly, communicating with each other – and the voice of these birds, although they are small, is very floody and spreads far around the area. At volume, their whistle is filled with melody. They make noise all day long, so you can constantly hear their whistle from bushes and trees with berries.
Most of the day they do just that – either sit on a bush and peck berries, or just relax and whistle. On fine days, they often take to the air, although they do not like to fly as much as swifts, and are not able to make the same complex figures. Also on clear days there are a lot of insects in the air and on the grass, and therefore waxwings hunt.
A flock is only a hindrance on it, therefore, in search of food, they often move away from it, but still do not fly too far. Having properly eaten insects, they return back and again begin to whistle with their relatives. The waxwing is a dexterous bird, it is able to catch insects on the fly and can catch a lot in a short time, but it is very difficult to get away from it.
When the cold comes, waxwings continue to fly and look for rowan berries, and in a particularly strong cold or snowstorm, flocks find shelter among spruce branches – in the depths of spruce, under needles and a layer of snow, it is noticeably warmer, especially if you cuddle up to each other. Birds are quite capable of surviving even a harsh winter.
Social Structure and Reproduction
If usually these birds are loud, lively and are not afraid to fly up to people, then in May-June they become almost inaudible. The reason is that the nesting season is coming – by the beginning of it, pairs are already created and waxwings begin to build nests. Curiously, every year pairs of waxwings are formed anew, while the male brings berries as a gift to the female – he must do this constantly for quite a long time. Considering the appetite of waxwings, the male has to get really a lot of food at this time.
This serves as a kind of test of whether he can supply the female with food at a time when she is incubating eggs. She will need to be fed until she decides whether to accept his courtship, or he did not try enough and it is better to try to create a couple with another. The place for the nest is chosen near the reservoir – access to water is very important, because otherwise the birds will have to fly constantly to drink themselves and water the chicks. Most often, nests are located in light forests, on the branches of large Christmas trees, at a height of 7-14 meters.
This is the optimal height so that both terrestrial animals are not interested, and nests are not visible to birds of prey flying over the fir trees. Waxwings can settle for the nesting time both separately and together, in a flock of nests nesting close to each other. Birds use twigs, blades of grass, lichen and moss to build. Feathers and wool are laid at the bottom of the nest so that the chicks are soft and comfortable. When the nest is completely ready, the female lays 3-6 eggs of a bluish-gray tint, speckled in it.
They need to hatch for two weeks, and only the female does this, while the male has to carry food for her all this time – she herself does not go anywhere. After the first time, the chicks are helpless, but very voracious – they only do what they ask for food. This attracts predators, so that parents have to get food for them and themselves, and also defend themselves. Therefore, one parent flies for food – they do this alternately, and the second remains in the nest. The first two weeks are the most dangerous time, then the chicks become covered with feathers and become a little more independent. True, they still have to be fed for some time.
By August, their plumage is fully developed so that they learn to fly and gradually begin to forage for their own food, although sometimes their parents still have to feed them. By the end of summer, they already fly well and become independent, leaving their parents for the emerging winter flock. A young waxwing reaches sexual maturity by the next breeding season, and lives for 10-15 years, which is quite a lot for a bird of such modest size.
Natural enemies of waxwings
It is difficult for waxwings to protect themselves because of their small size and the absence of a powerful beak or claws, their coloring cannot be called masking, their flight speed is far from a record one, and things are even worse with maneuverability. Therefore, there are a lot of predators capable of grabbing the waxwing, and danger threatens it always and everywhere.
Among the main enemies are:
Birds of prey can catch waxwings in flight or try to catch them by surprise when they sit peacefully on tree branches. It is very difficult to get away from a hawk or other large bird. And even at night, waxwings cannot feel safe, because owls come out to hunt. They are primarily interested in rodents, but if they manage to find a nest of waxwings, then they will not do well either. Crows and magpies can also catch adult birds, but they bring more problems because of their tendency to destroy nests: these predators love to feast on chicks and eggs.
Moreover, a crow can ruin several neighboring nests at once, even if it ate in the first one, and simply kills the rest of the chicks without eating, and breaks the eggs. If the parents try to protect the nest, the crow cracks down on them too. Predatory rodents are also not averse to destroying the nest: it is quite easy for martens and squirrels to get to it. They love eggs most of all, but they can also eat chicks, and they can kill an adult bird, although it may already be dangerous for them – there is a risk of getting injured from its beak.
Population and species status
The range of common waxwings in Eurasia very wide – about 13 million square kilometers. This area is inhabited by a large population of millions of individuals – it is difficult to estimate their exact number. In recent decades, the population of these birds has declined, however, the rate of this decline is still small.
Based on this, the species is one of those that cause the least concern and is not legally protected either in Russia or in European countries. Most of the spaces where the waxwing lives are little developed, and in the coming years it is not worth waiting for its active development – these are the cold territories of Scandinavia, the Urals, and Siberia.
Therefore, there is no threat to the waxwing population living there. In North America, the situation is similar – most of these birds live in the sparsely populated forests of Canada. The population on this continent is large, according to American farmers suffering from waxwings, even excessively. The situation is different with the Japanese waxwing, also known as the Amur waxwing – it is quite rare and even protected in many habitats. otherwise its color will fade – the easiest way is to give carrots. Also, she will not refuse cottage cheese, small pieces of meat, insects, raisins.
In the warm season, more fruits, vegetables and herbs are added to the menu and, of course, they are always available feed berries. If the birds have offspring, animal food should prevail in their diet, it is also important not to disturb them while hatching.
The waxwing is a small and defenseless bird in front of predators. They get their way through perseverance: year after year they build more and more nests, and then hatch and fatten the chicks until they can live on their own. They are very tenacious and can survive even a cold winter, while feeding only on frozen mountain ash.