Waxwing

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Waxwings
Cedar Wax Wing.jpg
Bohemian waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Bombycillidae
Swainson, 1831
Genus:Bombycilla
Vieillot, 1808
Species

The waxwings are passerine birds classified in the genus Bombycilla. They are brown and pale grey with silky plumage, a black and white eyestripe, a crest, a square-cut tail and pointed wings. Some of the wing feathers have red tips, the resemblance of which to sealing wax gives these birds their common name. According to most authorities, this is the only genus placed in the family Bombycillidae, although Phainoptila is sometimes included. There are three species, the Bohemian waxwing (B. garrulus), the Japanese waxwing (B. japonica) and the cedar waxwing (B. cedrorum).

Passerine Any bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds

A passerine is any bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or – less accurately – as songbirds, passerines are distinguished from other orders of birds by the arrangement of their toes, which facilitates perching, amongst other features specific to their evolutionary history in Australaves.

Bird Warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrates with wings, feathers and beaks

Birds, also known as Aves or avian dinosaurs, are a group of endothermic vertebrates, characterised by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, the laying of hard-shelled eggs, a high metabolic rate, a four-chambered heart, and a strong yet lightweight skeleton. Birds live worldwide and range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) bee hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) ostrich. They rank as the world's most numerically-successful class of tetrapods, with approximately ten thousand living species, more than half of these being passerines, sometimes known as perching birds. Birds have wings which are more or less developed depending on the species; the only known groups without wings are the extinct moa and elephant birds. Wings, which evolved from forelimbs, gave birds the ability to fly, although further evolution has led to the loss of flight in flightless birds, including ratites, penguins, and diverse endemic island species of birds. The digestive and respiratory systems of birds are also uniquely adapted for flight. Some bird species of aquatic environments, particularly seabirds and some waterbirds, have further evolved for swimming.

A genus is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, as well as viruses, in biology. In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family. In binomial nomenclature, the genus name forms the first part of the binomial species name for each species within the genus.

Contents

Waxwings are not long-distance migrants, but move nomadically outside the breeding season. Waxwings mostly feed on fruit, but at times of year when fruits are unavailable they feed on sap, buds, flowers and insects. They catch insects by gleaning through foliage or in mid-air. They often nest near water, the female building a loose nest at the fork of a branch, well away from the trunk of the tree. She also incubates the eggs, the male bringing her food to the nest, and both sexes help rear the young. Waxwings appear in art and have been mentioned in literature.

Description

Waxwings are characterised by soft silky plumage. (Bombycilla, the genus name, is Vieillot's attempt at Latin for "silktail", translating the German name Seidenschwänze.) [1] They have unique red tips to some of the wing feathers where the shafts extend beyond the barbs; in the Bohemian and cedar waxwings, these tips look like sealing wax, and give the group its common name. [2] The legs are short and strong, and the wings are pointed. The male and female have the same plumage. All three species have mainly brown plumage, a black line through the eye and black under the chin, a square-ended tail with a red or yellow tip, and a pointed crest. The bill, eyes, and feet are dark. The adults moult between August and November, but may suspend their moult and continue after migration. [3] Calls are high-pitched, buzzing or trilling monosyllables. [4] [5]

Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot French ornithologist

Louis Pierre Vieillot was a French ornithologist.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Bohemian waxwing A passerine bird from Eurasia and North America

The Bohemian waxwing is a starling-sized passerine bird that breeds in the northern forests of Eurasia and North America. It has mainly buff-grey plumage, black face markings and a pointed crest. Its wings are patterned with white and bright yellow, and some feather tips have the red waxy appearance that give this species its English name. The three subspecies show only minor differences in appearance. Females are similar to males, although young birds are less well-marked and have few or no waxy wingtips. Although the Bohemian waxwing's range overlaps those of the cedar and Japanese waxwings, it is easily distinguished from them by size and plumage differences.

Diet

These are arboreal birds that breed in northern forests (Witmer and Avery 2003). Their main food is fruit, which they eat from early summer (strawberries, mulberries, and serviceberries) through late summer and fall (raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and honeysuckle berries) into late fall and winter (juniper berries, grapes, crabapples, mountain-ash fruits, rose hips, cotoneaster fruits, dogwood berries, and mistletoe berries) (MacKinnon and Phillipps 2000, Witmer and Avery 2003). They pluck fruit from a perch or occasionally while hovering. In spring they replace fruit with sap, buds, and flowers. In the warmer part of the year they catch many insects by gleaning or in midair, and often nest near water where flying insects are abundant. [6]

<i>Fragaria</i> genus of plants

Fragaria is a genus of flowering plants in the rose family, Rosaceae, commonly known as strawberries for their edible fruits. There are more than 20 described species and many hybrids and cultivars. The most common strawberries grown commercially are cultivars of the garden strawberry, a hybrid known as Fragaria × ananassa. Strawberries have a taste that varies by cultivar, and ranges from quite sweet to rather tart. Strawberries are an important commercial fruit crop, widely grown in all temperate regions of the world.

<i>Amelanchier</i> genus of plants

Amelanchier, also known as shadbush, shadwood or shadblow, serviceberry or sarvisberry, or just sarvis, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum or wild-plum, and chuckley pear is a genus of about 20 species of deciduous-leaved shrubs and small trees in the rose family (Rosaceae).

Raspberry

The raspberry is the edible fruit of a multitude of plant species in the genus Rubus of the rose family, most of which are in the subgenus Idaeobatus; the name also applies to these plants themselves. Raspberries are perennial with woody stems.

Reproduction

Cedar waxwing pair passing a berry back and forth during courtship Cedar waxwing Courtship.jpg
Cedar waxwing pair passing a berry back and forth during courtship

Waxwings also choose nest sites in places with rich supplies of fruit and breed late in the year to take advantage of summer ripening. However, they may start courting as early as the winter. Pairing includes a ritual in which mates pass a fruit or small inedible object back and forth several times until one eats it (if it is a fruit). After this they may copulate. So that many birds can nest in places with good food supplies, a pair does not defend a territory—perhaps the reason waxwings have no true song—but a bird may attack intruders, perhaps to guard its mate. Both birds gather nest materials, but the female does most of the construction, usually on a horizontal limb or in a crotch well away from the tree trunk, at any height. She makes a loose, bulky nest of twigs, grass, and lichen, which she lines with fine grass, moss, and pine needles and may camouflage with dangling pieces of grass, flowers, lichen, and moss. The female incubates, fed by the male on the nest, but once the eggs hatch, both birds feed the young (Witmer and Avery 2003).

Lichen Composite of algae or cyanobacteria with fungi

A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship. The combined lichen has properties different from those of its component organisms. Lichens come in many colors, sizes, and forms. The properties are sometimes plant-like, but lichens are not plants. Lichens may have tiny, leafless branches (fruticose), flat leaf-like structures (foliose), flakes that lie on the surface like peeling paint (crustose), a powder-like appearance (leprose), or other growth forms.

Pine genus of plants

A pine is any conifer in the genus Pinus of the family Pinaceae. Pinus is the sole genus in the subfamily Pinoideae. The Plant List compiled by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden accepts 126 species names of pines as current, together with 35 unresolved species and many more synonyms.

Movements

They are not true long-distance migrants, but wander erratically outside the breeding season and move south from their summer range in winter. In poor berry years huge numbers can erupt well beyond their normal range, often in flocks that on occasion number in the thousands (Witmer and Avery 2003).

Bird migration movement of birds

Bird migration is the regular seasonal movement, often north and south along a flyway, between breeding and wintering grounds. Many species of bird migrate. Migration carries high costs in predation and mortality, including from hunting by humans, and is driven primarily by availability of food. It occurs mainly in the northern hemisphere, where birds are funneled on to specific routes by natural barriers such as the Mediterranean Sea or the Caribbean Sea.

Relationships

Some authorities (including the Sibley-Monroe checklist) place some other genera in the family Bombycillidae along with the waxwings. Birds that are sometimes classified in this way include the silky-flycatchers, the hypocolius, and the palm chat. Recent molecular analyses have corroborated their affinity and identified them as a clade, identifying the yellow-flanked whistler as another member. [7]

The Sibley-Monroe checklist was a landmark document in the study of birds. It drew on extensive DNA-DNA hybridisation studies to reassess the relationships between modern birds.

Silky-flycatcher family of birds

The silky-flycatchers are a small family, Ptiliogonatidae, of passerine birds. The family contains only four species in three genera. They were formerly lumped with waxwings and hypocolius in the family Bombycillidae, and they are listed in that family by the Sibley-Monroe checklist. The family is named for their silky plumage and their aerial flycatching techniques, although they are unrelated to the Old World flycatchers (Muscicapidae) and the tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae).

Clade A group of organisms that consists of a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants

A clade, also known as monophyletic group, is a group of organisms that consists of a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants, and represents a single "branch" on the "tree of life". Rather than English, the equivalent Latin term cladus is often used in taxonomical literature.

Species

Quotation

Two Dead Bohemian Waxwings by Lucas Cranach the elder, ca. 1530 Lucas Cranach the Elder - Two Dead Bohemian Waxwings - Google Art Project.jpg
Two Dead Bohemian Waxwings by Lucas Cranach the elder, ca. 1530

Waxwings are mentioned in the first lines of the poem "Pale Fire" by "John Shade", a fictional poet created by Vladimir Nabokov for his novel Pale Fire .

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By the false azure in the windowpane

The waxwing identified in the Commentary to Pale Fire is a fictitious species. The novel's narrator claims that John Shade's father had a waxwing named for him, Bombycilla Shadei, and in noting the name corrects the taxonomical error: '(this should be shadei, of course)'.

The line "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain" was also used in the song "The Obituaries" by the band The Menzingers.

Waxwings are also mentioned in the song "Autumn" by Joanna Newsom.

When out of the massing that bodes and bides

In the cold West
Flew a waxwing who froze and died against my breast
And all the while rain like a weed in the tide swans and lists
Down on the gossiping lawn, saying, "tsk, tsk, tsk"

Notes

  1. Vieillot analyzed motacilla, Latin for "wagtail", as mota for "move" and cilla, which he thought meant "tail". (Motacilla actually combines motacis, a mover, with the diminutive suffix -illa.) He then combined this cilla with Latin bombyx, silk (Holloway 2003).
  2. Holloway, Joel Ellis (2003). Dictionary of Birds of the United States: Scientific and Common Names. Timber Press. p. 39. ISBN   0-88192-600-0 . Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  3. RSPB Handbook of British Birds (2014). ISBN   978-1-4729-0647-2.
  4. MacKinnon, John; Phillipps, Karen (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, USA. pp.  286–287. ISBN   0-19-854940-7.
  5. Sibley, David Allen (2000). The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred Knopf. pp.  423. ISBN   0-679-45122-6.
  6. Witmer, Mark; Avery, Mark (2003). "Waxwings and Silky Flycatchers". In Perrins, Christopher (ed.). The Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp.  518–519. ISBN   1-55297-777-3.
  7. Spellman, G.A.; Cibois, A; Moyle, RG; Winker, K; Keith Barker, F; et al. (2008). "Clarifying the systematics of an enigmatic avian lineage: What is a bombycillid?". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 49 (3): 691–1044. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.09.006. PMC   2627281 . PMID   18824237.

Related Research Articles

Cedar waxwing species of bird

The cedar waxwing is a member of the family Bombycillidae or waxwing family of passerine birds. It is a medium-sized, mostly brown, gray, and yellow bird named for its wax-like wing tips. It is a native of North and Central America, breeding in open wooded areas in southern Canada and wintering in the southern half of the United States, Central America, and the far northwest of South America. Its diet includes cedar cones, fruit, and insects. The cedar waxwing is not endangered.

Palmchat species of bird

The palmchat is a small, long-tailed passerine bird, the only species in the genus Dulus and the family Dulidae. It is thought to be related to the waxwings, family Bombycillidae, and is sometimes classified with that group. The name reflects its strong association with palms for feeding, roosting and nesting.

Japanese waxwing species of bird

The Japanese waxwing is a fairly small passerine bird of the waxwing family found in north-east Asia. It feeds mainly on fruit and berries but also eats insects during the summer. The nest is a cup of twigs lined with grass and moss which is built in a tree.