Cedar Waxwings Avian Acrobats (lots of images)

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drj3 Veteran Member • Posts: 6,400
Cedar Waxwings Avian Acrobats (lots of images)
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I have a line of tall Wild Cherry trees at the end of my driveway. Each fall Cedar Waxwings arrive in the morning and stay for 2-3 hours eating the cherries and then fly away and the do not return until the next fall. Each year I try to get at least a few images, but most are not very good since they are at the top of the trees (80-90 feet) hidden by the leaves. I generally find that small birds need to be within about 50 feet for sharp images with good detail with the 2X crop 420mm lens.

This year the Waxwing’s behavior was different. I immediately noticed that the birds would fly out from the tree, quickly change direction and then return to the tree. The flight was very brief (typically about 3 seconds). I did know that Cedar Waxwings also ate insects, in addition to their normal fruit diet, but I had never observed them feeding on insects.

I decided to use shutter speeds of 1/1000-1/1250 to ensure that I obtained some images of the birds in flight with acceptable IQ, though I knew this would result in some motion blur when the birds quickly changed direction. I was not convinced that I would be able to keep the Waxwings in the frame or that the camera would be capable of keeping them in focus when they changed direction and distance so quickly. Now that I have Cedar Waxwing in flight images, I will use a much higher shutter speed if I observe this behavior in the future. It would be nice if they were feeding in shorter trees. A shutter speed of at least 1/3200 to 1/4000 is probably necessary to freeze the bird’s motion as well as prevent blur from panning in the wrong direction when they quickly change direction.

Most of the attached images are of the birds changing direction. These images are not as sharp as those of the Waxwings in flight, since motion blur as well as the distance (80-120 feet) prevents good detail. However, I chose to post these images since they demonstrate the incredible ability of these birds to quickly modify their flight and I have not seen similar images posted on DPR. Waxwings can be flying at full speed in one direction and instantly change direction and fly up/down to either side or back. I tried to select images that show the agility of the Waxwings. I found photographing them to be a somewhat greater challenge than photographing flying swallows, since they change direction more quickly in less predictable ways. The very short interval of time available to locate the birds flying from various trees increased the challenge.

The weather was good but there was some haze in the atmosphere. The birds with the pattern on the breast are adolescent birds. All images except the first two, which were much closer than the others, are cropped. The first two are posted to show adolescent Waxwings with an insect. When the insect was visible in the image, it is included in the crop.

Based on this limited observation, I believe the waxwings choose the insect as they fly, instead of flying out for a specific insect, since they need to modify their flight direction so quickly to catch the insect. It would also appear that they are not very selective in what they catch. About 25% of the time, the Waxwing “spit” out the insect after catching it as shown in the last image. I do not know if this was based on taste of the insect or if the insect stung the bird in the mouth.

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drj3

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