Details: Feathery Flying Bohemians


I love when the Bohemian Waxwings come to town. They are mesmerizing as they swoop and swirl from tree to tree, filling the air with their chirping. And, I really love their name.

Here’s a bit of etymology from Wikipedia for you:

Its English name refers to the bright red bead-like tips of the secondary feathers on its wings, which look like drops of sealing wax, while “Bohemian” refers to the Romani (gypsies), with a comparison to this bird’s wandering, or to its (presumed) origin from Bohemia (at the time, a relatively unknown “distant, eastern” place to most English speakers).

I’ve been trying to get a good picture of the waxwings for weeks (and made my husband pour over numerous blurry options to help me pick the best one for this post – “best” being a relative term), and haven’t really succeeded…I think it takes a professional to capture their beauty and energy (not a point and shoot morning dog-walker). Wikipedia has lots of great images if you’re interested.

It might also take a gifted writer to really convey the sensation of watching the waxwings (not a hurried late night blogger) so I’d like to direct you to a great article, “Of waxwings and goshawks and standing up to power,”  that I read in the Anchorage Press by Bill Sherwonit.  It’s about more than waxwings as I’m sure you can tell by the title, and is a worthy read!

Here’s an excerpt that I particularly enjoyed:

“To see such enormous swarms of songbirds in the depths of Alaska’s winter always seems like something of a miracle. And a cause for celebration and wonder.”

You can read the full piece here.

Another great article, “Mountain ash’s magic steeped in mythology,” by Jeff Lowenfels, (oh how I love love love Mountain Ash trees!) includes this hilarious bit of thinking:

I’ve seen enough mountain ash berries this month to know that we are going to have quite a few drunken bohemian waxwings later this winter. Those beautiful, red berries, bountiful this year, happen to be their favorite food. But they ferment during the winter and the last ones eaten must be doozies. More than one waxwing has awakened with a terrible hangover, I am quite sure.

Can you imagine?

I wonder if being tipsy it makes it harder for waxwings to navigate in their huge flocks? It must, right? And I also wonder if some of the birds that used to bump into windows at our old house were FUI (flying under intoxication). It would explain things a bit – Mountain Ash right outside our deck, springtime, random (upsetting) crashes into windows that they avoided up until that point…Hmmmm…

Anyway, even better than reading about waxwings, or looking at photos, or pondering about drunken birds, go for a walk along a street where Mountain Ash grow, and enjoy the sight and sound in person.


Author: Gretchen Fauske

I love Anchorage. I love what it is, what it's been, and what I dream it will be. I share my adventures with DJ (my husband), my fabulous family and friends, two frenchies named Grover and Teddy, and now, all of you. If you love Anchorage too, get in touch - guest posts are welcome!