Monday, January 30, 2012

Gutter Birds that aren’t Gutter Birds

Having the luxury of being at home during the day, for now, I like to take advantage of backyard birding. As you may recall from our previous post, we have a big marsh behind our apartment building, and living on the third floor, we definitely have a great bird’s eye view. Many times I’ll just squat in front of my bedroom window and watch the array of visitors that flutter about in the trees just yards away from me. My most frequent visitors of late are the NUMEROUS butter butts (Yellow-Rumped Warblers), Eastern Bluebirds, House Finches, and woodpeckers including Red-Bellied, Downy, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and Northern Flicker.

A Group of Cedar Waxwings seen from a tree outside my bedroom

About 2 weeks ago, I had a delightful visit from a group of about 30 Cedar Waxwings! This was definitely a treat. If you know these birds, you know that they are somewhat easy to spot in they’re tight-knit flocks wizzing and whistling by, but when they land, they seem to pick the tallest tree of the bunch. So usually it’s hard to get decent shots of these guys. Once we were lucky enough to be at the top of a tower at a nature center when they landed in the trees about 100 ft away, but they still seemed a bit out of the way. And even being quite close to the trees from my bedroom window, they still were just a wee bit far from me to get close shots without me hanging out of the window and possibly falling from 3 stories high... Not good.

Male Eastern Bluebird at the gutter

Female Eastern Bluebird at the gutter

Two Male Bluebirds

House Finch

House Finch taking off as Yellow-Rumped Warbler perches

But luckily, the next week they visited again as I happened to step out of my apartment and across the hallway. This is where we have discovered we could look out to the next apartment building over where our little birdie friends like to bathe and drink in the gutter. On this day, I saw the usual suspects come by and drink and splash around – the Bluebirds, the House Finches, and the butter butts. And as I watched them, I could hear the familiar high-pitched hissy whistle of the Cedar Waxwings, but I could not see them! I scanned the tree line and found 3 of them, but I knew there were more somewhere. And then after about 5 minutes, flocks of them started to come into the trees closer to me! I was on the third-story landing of the staircase, so I still had a great view. But once again, I seemed to be plagued by the issue of just not being quite close enough to get a good shot.

Cedar Waxwings in a tall pine

Cedar Waxwings (Notice the one that's puffed up. Makes me giggle b/c he looks oddly obese next to the others).

I stood there still taking the pics I could and waiting to see if they would come to drink from the gutter, but it was a no-go. As I snapped my photos, I was quickly stopped by that awful sight on my camera, “Memory Card Full.” So, fearful that the waxwings would leave me forever without getting a great shot, I ran the 20 feet back to my apartment and switched out the memory cards. And as I hurried back to the landing, I was greeted by a spectacular sight – the Cedar Waxwings drinking in the gutter! I stayed back just a bit, enough to get close shots but without spooking the birds. I took my close-ups over the next 60 seconds before the waxwings went back to perch on the tall pine. I almost wanted to jump and scream for joy for finally getting close to these high perchers. For that short period, I basked in they’re silky tan and gray and yellow coat with their yellow-tipped tail feathers and their waxy, bright red-tipped wing feathers, their namesake. They look so smooth and sleek, almost like futuristic robots with a crested helmet with a glowing white outline of a cool, black mask.

Action shot of different angles of Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing floating on air

A good look at the red waxy wing tips

More Cedar Waxwings!

As I snuck back to the railing, I continued to watch them, hoping they may come back to the gutter, but alas, they did not. And they eventually flew off in their tight flock, hissy whistling away. But I was elated that I finally got the close shots I’d been wanting, even if it was in a not-so attractive locale. These beautiful, stately birds were in no way “gutter birds,” which you may know that birders will playfully call birds that are, how should I say, undesirable... or at least birds that are not usually sought after, such as Grackles or Rock Doves/ Pigeons. No, these were just beautiful birds that just happen to enjoy the refreshing drink of rainwater collected in a gutter.

Everyone in the pool!

So sleek

Great view of the open wings

An intimate moment between Cedar Waxwings


  1. Wow! It's awesome to have such a nice birding set-up right there at home, and you've got some beauties flying through. I haven't been able to photograph Waxwings, but I'm certainly looking forward to it.
    They're beautiful birds and you captured it very well. I appreciate you personable writing, it really puts the reader in that elated position of discovering a new bird, or the photographer's near equivalent of getting good close pictures of a cool bird.

    These are some debonair subjects here; thanks for sharing.

    1. Laurence, Thank You so much for your kind comment! It pleases me so much that I'm able to convey my joy and excitement with others. And I'm sure your Waxwing moment will come. =)