Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Birds Do It

With berries and flower petals, cedar waxwings go on the make.


Cedar waxing on a floral bough, Quebec

Photo: Claude Nadeau

Thanks to Valerie Sudol of the New Jersey Star Ledger for her remarkable description of cedar waxwing courtship.

“In the mating ritual, the male will bring an offering, usually a berry but sometimes a flower petal, and present it to a potential lady love. If receptive, she will accept the gift, hop to one side to display her wings and their waxen jewels, and then give the food back. They pass the tidbit back and forth any number of times before one finally eats it.”

One website advances a rather joyless premise for why waxwings would bother passing along food rather than just chowing down. It proposes that the tough coating of most berries is too hard for waxwings to digest, so by tossing a berry around for awhile they make it edible. That would explain the exchange of berries, but what about the flower petals, where there’s no tough wrapper to peel?

imageRange of Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Bombycilla cedrorum appears to handle flowers somewhat the way people to, exchanging blossoms to strengthen social ties and, in some cases, sexual ones. “Cedar Waxwings  have an interesting habit of lining up in a long row along a branch, and passing a berry or flower from bird to bird down the row, until one eats it.”

Like gregarious human types, these birds sometimes overdo.  Sudol writes, “When they descend upon a stand of berries in groups of 100 or more, it’s with the enthusiasm of frat boys on midterm break. They will stuff themselves silly, making party chat while they strip the branches clean.

“Some say it is gorging on over-ripe, partially fermented berries that makes them act like drunks, insensible and unable to fly….John James Audubon, the noted artist and naturalist, didn’t have to shoot waxwings to acquire specimens for his paintings. He could just pick them off the ground when they were staggering around under the trees and cart them off to his studio.”

A couple of years ago, we had the good fortune of entertaining a flock of cedar waxwings that had come across our nandina bushes. We hope that more masked beauties will return: “Drunk or sober, y’all come.” Hey, all you florists, wondering whether Bombycilla cedrorum visits your town? Cornell University offers a map and more information.

This chart (California-centric) describes plants and flowers that various birds species especially like. Summer holly and brown twig dogwood are cedar-waxwing favorites. And here are more photos of this remarkable flower-giving bird.

Posted by Julie on 01/28 at 04:04 PM