Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Waxwing lyrical part 43 - Ruby Wax

Well the Waxwing is still here and attracting a steady stream of admirers which is hardly surprising with so few in the country. There was a bit more in the way of sunshine on Sunday and a lot more today so I couldn't resist taking even more photographs. Most of them get deleted as it can be difficult to get results I am happy with and that show different aspects of behaviour. I don't always like taking photos in strong sunlight but it certainly does help bring out the colour of the Waxwing's ruby red eye.

Get the light right and that ruby red eye really stands out.
A close up showing the feeding action. The bird seems to favour apples in certain positions that allow it to take a really firm bite and remove a piece with a snipping and pulling or twisting action that involves using the whole of the body. 
The bird's forehead is almost permanently wet with apple juice and bits of apple pulp get stuck on the bill. Wiping the bill on a twig deals with apple pulp on the sides of the bill but does not always clear any that has found its way onto the culmen.
If bill wiping doesn't remove all of the pulp a quick shake of the head throws off the rest.
All the stuff on the branch to the left of the apple is Waxwing poo. Waxwings eat a lot and poo a lot. When feeding continuously it can defecate as frequently as every one to two minutes. Yes I have timed it.
This photograph shows the Waxwing blinking by drawing the nictitating membrane across the eye. This membrane or third eyelid is much more transparent in Waxwings and is not as obvious as it can be in some other species. The transparency of the membrane in Waxwings is presumably an adaptation to help maintain vision and so make it less vulnerable to predation. You can see the forehead is wet from apple juice so it must get quite a lot in its eyes too and therefore it needs to blink frequently when feeding. From what I have seen they appear to blink with every peck but you would need a slow motion camera to confirm that.
Time for a scratch
The nictitating membrane is covering the eye as it scratches. I couldn't tell if it held the membrane across its eye for the duration of its scratching or if it involved a series of blinks.
When alarmed it tries to make itself inconspicuous by elongating and narrowing itself. Basically it tries to make itself look like a twig and part of the tree. The body feathers of a Waxwing closely resemble the bark of trees such as Rowan as can be seen in all of these photographs. 
Still very alert and with a very erect posture.
Blue Tits like a bit of apple too and you get a closer view of that Waxwing apple poo. 

..........and what other photographs can you take when you have a Waxwing in your garden.

and finally.................

The dog is jealous of all the attention the Waxwing gets and consoles himself with his sheep.

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