Robins and Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing eating snow

Cedar Waxwing eating snow

This winter has been a good one for seeing robins and, more recently, waxwings. These birds are hardy enough to survive our Canadian winters as long as they have shelter, open water, and food in the form of berries; Mud Lake, Shirley’s Bay, the Fletcher Wildlife Garden/Arboretum, and Hurdman Park have all three in abundance and usually host small flocks of these birds each winter.

I returned to Hurdman last week to see if the Cedar Waxwings were still there and to look for a smaller group of Bohemian Waxwings that had also been reported. I was surprised when I found over a dozen House Finches in the area – these birds have been absent from Hurdman this winter, likely because there are no feeders this year. I also found a couple of robins, European Starlings, and about two dozen Cedar Waxwings.


While many of the waxwings were feeding on the buckthorn berries, others were sitting on thick, snow-laden tree limbs. This struck me as odd until I realized that they were eating the snow.

Cedar Waxwing eating snow

Cedar Waxwing eating snow

Although I spent some time watching them, I didn’t see any Bohemians in the group.

Other birds of interest included a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and three cardinals. Although they are shy, cardinals do recognize humans as a source of food and often fly in when I start throwing seed on the ground for the chickadees. They never come as close as the chickadees, however, but wait until I have left the area before coming down to the ground to feed.

On the river, the male Barrow’s Goldeneye was swimming in a tiny patch of water with a female Common Goldeneye; this is the first time I’ve seen the Barrow’s here all winter. Normally he’s been spending his time further north at Strathcona/Riverrain Park.

The following weekend Deb and I went to Mud Lake to look for the Winter Wren and Carolina Wren. We failed to find the Winter Wren or the kingfisher behind the Ridge, but as we were walking around the lake we heard the crows fussing over something. Deb and I tracked them down, hoping to find an owl, but when we spotted the crows they were looking down at the ground. Then a fox ran out across the path, onto the ice, and disappeared. It happened so suddenly neither Deb nor I were able to raise our cameras in time to take a photo. I was thrilled with this sighting, especially since I haven’t seen a fox in over a year. We’d noticed several fox tracks on our walk and knew that one was around; we didn’t expect to see him so easily!

We found the Carolina Wren along the western fence, but it disappeared into a yard as soon as we spotted it. A junco and a few House Finches were also in the same area, probably feeding at one of the bird feeders nearby.

The number of robins and Cedar Waxwings along the trail was astonishing. We counted about two dozen Cedar Waxwings and at least 200 robins in large flocks throughout the conservation area; they outnumbered the chickadees by a large margin.

American Robin

It appears the robins weren’t surviving solely on berries. There is usually a patch of open water on the lake at the Cassels Street entrance, and Deb and I were surprised to see the water churning when we arrived. Dozens of tiny fish were coming up to the surface, and when I saw a robin fly down to the water’s edge I thought he wanted a drink.  I was quite surprised when he dipped his beak into the water and came up with a tiny, wriggling silver fish instead!  After gulping it down he remained on the ice, and I waited to see if he would catch another fish. I wanted to catch this incredible behaviour on camera, but after a few minutes of waiting the robin gave up and flew back up into a tree.

The minnow-eating robin

I suppose, to a robin, the small fish resembled aquatic worms, though I would hope that they tasted much better!

Minnow-eating robin

After leaving Mud Lake, Deb and I finally caught up with a flock of Bohemian Waxwings on Rifle Road while on our way to the Hilda Road feeders. There must have been a couple hundred birds in the flock; although we didn’t see any Cedars amongst them, we did notice one robin. We didn’t take any photos as the clouds had moved in by then and the day was very overcast.

We didn’t take any photos of the Northern Mockingbird we found on Grandview Avenue, either. It was sitting on a telephone wire when we arrived, calmly looking around. We were hoping it would fly down into the juniper tree, but when we took our eyes off of the mockingbird to watch a flock of small birds fly by, it disappeared.

There are at least four more weeks until the Red-winged Blackbirds and other early migrants begin to return, and the February doldrums are beginning to set in. It is becoming difficult to find a reason to go outside these days, so seeing the Northern Mockingbird, the Bohemian Waxwings, and the minnow-eating robin really brightened my spirits. The fox was a wonderful bonus; I hope it’s not a year until I see another one!

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One thought on “Robins and Waxwings

  1. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

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