The Hollies

January 30, 2013 | Greg Dodge

Last week I wrote about a small flock of Cedar Waxwings flying around the Outdoor Exhibit area of the Museum searching for berries. That’s what waxwings do. They’re nomadic and social. In winter you can expect to see flocks of these gentle birds wheeling across the countryside looking for fruit. You may not see them as often as you’d like (they are very attractive birds and worth your attention) but if you have a fruiting tree or vine nearby and a flock of waxwings shows up in your neighborhood it should be of no great surprise, exciting yes, but not surprising.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching a pair of small hollies in Explore the Wild. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a family of Eastern Bluebirds, and one or two Hermit Thrushes had all staked claims on the trees for the their abundant berries. Soon, an American Robin joined the group of avian claimants. Each time one of the other birds flew in for a berry or two the others would fly over to the tree in protest, flapping their wings, scolding, and otherwise showing their irritation at the intrusion.

An American Robin protests loudly at being relieved of what it considers its winter food source.

The waxwings mentioned earlier spotted the hollies and moved in. Waxwings seem to be very focused on what they’re doing. They don’t fuss, flap their wings in protest, or scold the other species feeding alongside themselves. When they come across a source of berries, like the holly tree, they peacefully (it seems) and quietly go about the systematic gobbling up of the fruit. When the fruit is gone, so are they.

Throughout the afternoon on Wednesday I watched the waxwings go about their duty. Each of the other species came in to try and scare off the waxwings to no avail. At the end of the day (my day here at the Museum) the birds were still at their job of clearing the hollies of their berries, taking breaks to digest. When I returned the following day, the hollies were devoid of berries. Oh, there were one or two misshapen or unusually small berries left, but essentially, the holly had been striped of all its fruit.

The holly trees are very close to the restroom building which allows for a fairly good blind from which to take photos. Below are some of the images of the event:

From a redwood, a Cedar Waxwing looks down at the holly trees, contemplating its next move.

Let’s go, there’s plenty for everyone!

The Cedar Waxwings move in and begin to gulp down the holly berries.

A young Hermit Thrush surveys the increased activity at the holly trees.

Looking somewhat perturbed a bluebird stares at the waxwings eating all of her berries.

Unperturbed, the waxwings continue to do what they always do, eat their fill.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker looks on from a nearby Dawn Redwood.

The next day the waxwings were gone, and so were the berries. Don’t worry Hermit Thrush, there’s more berries up in Catch the Wind next to the bungee, the “Take Off.”

The bluebird wonders at the efficiency of the waxwings.

The sapsucker and the three thrushes, robin, bluebird, and Hermit Thrush all looked at the holly as a food source for the rest of the winter, we still have February and at least part of March to go. Fortunately, there are many other hollies around the Museum campus. Even though the hollies and other fruiting trees, honeysuckle and even red cedar, may have their own resident birds claiming ownership, I believe that there is still plenty of fruit for all. Have you had a look at all of the holly berries along the south side of Loblolly Park?

On the other hand, there are still bands of waxwings wandering around the countryside. And, let’s not forget that there are masses of robins who have spent the winter south of here and who will be stopping by next month on their way north, so maybe we don’t have enough to go around. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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