Bohemian waxwings, a burst of color in the depth of winter

I was driving into the Bangor Daily News parking lot at 491 Main Street last week when I noticed a large group of birds perching in trees near the entrance.

bohemian021915My first thought was “house sparrows” because a mess of them live in the evergreen bushes that surround the building. But then I realized that the birds were much larger than house sparrows.

My next thought was, “pigeons.” I usually don’t see pigeons perching in trees. They’re usually on top of buildings or telephone wires, but I sometimes they can surprise you. Bangor is full of them.

It wasn’t until I was right under the trees, leaning over my steering wheel and looking up at the branches through my front windshield, that I realized that they were Bohemian waxwings!

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki

Since I’m relatively new to birding, this was the first time I’d seen Bohemian waxwings in person. I only knew what they were because of multiple photo posts and discussions on the Facebook group MAINE birds. They’re shaped sort of like cardinals or blue jays, with a tuft on their heads, and they’re a grayish color, fading to a peach color on the head, with bright orange around their face and on the underside of their tail, which is tipped in bright yellow. Their wing feathers also have bright yellow and bright red tips.

A similar species that we see in Maine are cedar waxwings, which look almost exactly the same but have yellow on their bellies and white under their tail, not orange. They also don’t have that same bright orange blush to their face that Bohemian waxwings do.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki

Anyway, I parked my car and got out my camera with its 100-400mm lens. I then made my way over to the trees, set my coffee on a co-worker’s car roof, set down my laptop bag in the snow, and started photographing those beautiful birds.

It was absolutely freezing outside. I don’t recall the temperature, but I do remember tears streaming from my face (and snot from my nose, TMI?) as I stood there in the wind. My fingers were burning in my thin mittens after just five minutes of photographing the birds, which were flitting about in the crabapple trees lining the residential street, gobbling up the frozen fruit. Fortunately, these birds are easy to get good photos of, especially when they’re busy eating. A few minutes were enough to capture some nice images.

From comments I’ve seen by Facebook birders, these particular birds are known for their acrobatic feats while feasting on fruit and berries. Some of the photos I took captures how they contort their bodies to reach around branches and get to a certain fruit.

birds021815-14When I walked into the office that morning, the first thing my fellow writer John said to me was, “Is something wrong?” I realized that tears were still streaming down my face and my face was flushed from the cold.

“I’m fine. I was just photographing some Bohemian waxwings!” I said excitedly.

He just shook his head.


Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at