February is the month filled with pink hearts, stories of love, and lots of chocolate. It’s a time to celebrate your relationships and show others how special they are. The animal kingdom has a unique way of showing that affection. Alligators bellow at each other, male deer fight other males in front of a female to show dominance, and ‘love birds’ dance for one another. One type of bird species that knows how to dance is the Cedar Waxwing varity of love birds (Bombycilla cedrorum) one of my favorite Kiawah wintertime visitors. These birds are named for their attraction to red cedar and their silky wax-like wing tips.
Cedar Waxwings (love birds) are a treasure to the eye with their silky feathers, bright yellow-tipped tail, and vivid red-fringed wings. These masked social birds can be seen traveling with hundreds of other waxwings in search of berries and insects. You will often find an “ear-full” of waxwings at the tops of palmetto trees in the wintertime, snacking on the dark berries and filling the air with high thin whistles. These birds eat berries from many plants including the vibrant red berries of Yaupon Holly which are toxic to humans, inducing vomiting. Very regularly, the waxwings will become intoxicated after eating overripe berries that have fermented. You may see a drunken waxwing flying out of control or falling out of a branch.
While their markings are striking, the most interesting part of this species is their mating dance. Males and females hop towards each other, back and forth, and meet in the middle to kiss. The males will regularly grab a piece of fruit or insect and pass it to the female. The female takes the fruit, hops away, and then hops back to give the fruit back. The tango continues until the female decides the male is a good suitor and eats his gift.
Waxwings can be found all over the Lowcounty in the winter: gardens, parks, downtown, any place they can find a berry. Once a tree has been stripped of its berries, the flock will move on to find another tree. Be wary of where you park your car at night for if it’s under a berry tree, you are likely to find many surprises on it the next morning.
-By Naturalist Kristen Lococo -Photo by Pam Cohen