Cedar Waxwings: Winter Texans Snack on Bugs and Berries

Cedar-Waxwing-with-redcedar-seed-cone. ©GaryBrady

Cedar-Waxwing-with-redcedar-seed-cone. ©GaryBrady

Cedar Waxwings: Winter Texans Snack on Bugs and Berries

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

But he himself [i.e., Elijah] went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.  And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid himself down again.  (1st Kings 19:4-6)

The above Scripture reports how the persecuted prophet Elijah, a fugitive fleeing Queen Jezebel, was miraculously fed a hot meal, by an angel, under a juniper tree. But the bird featured herein — CEDAR WAXWING (see feature photo by Gary Brady, above) — would need no miracle or angel to find food at a juniper tree, because the Cedar Waxwing’s diet is famous for including “juniper berries”, a nickname given to the evergreen redcedar tree’s seed cones (that are signified by the Cedar Waxwing’s name).

Cedar Waxwing with redcedar seed cone (a/k/a “juniper berry”)

Fair Use credit:  Missouri Dep’t of Conservation photo

Cedar Waxwings are insectivorous –  they often resemble flycatchers as they pursue and capture their aerial insect prey; in fact, insects are their main diet when berries are unavailable.  However, Cedar Waxwings thrive on seeds, including redcedar cones (nicknamed “juniper berries”), which are berry-like female seed cones.  (Each seed cone, technically called a megastrobilus, is bluish-purple within a waxy-whitish envelope, appearing somewhat like blueberries if seen in its wax coating.)  Cedar Waxwings also enjoy eating available fruits (e.g., apples) and a variety of perennial plant berries, especially during winter, when insects are mostly unavailable.  [See, accord, Thomas Alerstam, BIRD MIGRATION (Cambridge University Press, 1993), pages 167, 182, 195, 203.] juniper-berries-with-needleleaves.Wikipedia

Juniper “berries” with evergreen needle-leaves (Wikipedia photo)

Cedar Waxwings are very social passerines – they are even known to share berries, passing them from one bird to another (form beak to beak) in a line, so that each waxwing gets its share of the berries. [See Robert Rice, “The Moveable Feaster: Cedar Waxwing”, Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute (May 1st 1997), posted at https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/news/moveable-feaster .]   As gregarious birds, Cedar Waxwings travel—and stopover—in compact flocks.  This “caravan”-style migration is noted in the following birdwatching limerick of mine (which commemorates my observations of them, perching as a group, on April 1st (of AD2017):


Humankind, earthbound, lacks wings;

Unlike us, though, Cedar Waxwings,

Like migratory troops,

Stopping over in groups  –

Passing through, Cedar Waxwings.

[See also, comment on seeing waxwing stopover, https://leesbird.com/2016/04/04/lees-one-word-monday-4416/#comment-762787  — posted 4-1-AD2017.]


Flock of perching “winter Texan” Cedar Waxwings   (Steven Schwartzman photo)

Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are well-known crested migrants of North America (and to the Caribbean, and even as far south as Panama), yet their larger “cousins” — Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrula) — live and migrate within both North America and Europe. [See Thomas Alerstam, BIRD MIGRATION (Cambridge University Press, 1993), pages 164, 316, 337.]


Cedar Waxwings perching in Wisconsin   (Mike McDowell photo)

Cedar Waxwings themselves are widespread migrants, migrating phenologically with seasonal weather cycles. Roger Tory Peterson summarizes the Cedar Waxwing’s broad migratory range (in North America and the Caribbean) as follows:

Where found:  Se. Alaska, cent. Canada south to n. California, w. Oklahoma, and Georgia.  Winters from s. Canada to Panama, West Indies. Texas: Winters (Oct.-June) throughout. Habitat: Various; semi-open, wooded, towns, etc.

[Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, BIRDS OF TEXAS: A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF TEXAS AND ADJACENT STATES (Houghton Mifflin / Peterson Field Guides, 1988), page 191.]   Yet think about the marvels of migration – it’s easier to pronounce the word than it is to successfully accomplish the aerial journey!  For starters, what kind of weather is right for migration?

Which factors govern the migrants’ choice of migration weather?

Three such factors can be considered to be of great importance:  the living conditions in the area the birds are leaving, the living conditions in the area for which they are heading, and the flying conditions during the migration itself.

If the birds’ choice of migration weather were mainly an adaptation [i.e., providentially prepared-for response] to the conditions in the area they are leaving, then in the first place cold, frost, snow and formation of ice, [i.e.] weather factors which make their living conditions considerably worse, ought to trigger emigration.  Similar weather in the destination area, if it could be foreseen by the birds, naturally ought to have the effect of deterring migration [i.e., immigration to the new location].

Where the flying conditions during the migration are concerned, two factors are of the greatest importance to the birds:  they should carry out the flight as economically as possible from an energy [consumption] point of view[,] and they should avoid weather which may lead to [navigational] orientation problems.  The first factor is provided for if the birds choose tail winds, and the second if they avoid flying in rain, fog and dense cloud[s].  That precisely those points, tail winds and avoiding of areas of rain, usually are key factors for intensive migration has been confirmed.  We can therefore draw the conclusion that the migrants’ reactions to weather, those reactions that determine the variation in migration intensity from day to day, in general (but not always, see below) are an adaptation [i.e., providentially prepared-for response] to good flying conditions in the area they start from or finish in.

Occasions arise, however, when birds are driven [by instinct or something else] to migrate by degenerated living conditions or are held back by poor prospects in the area of their destination [yet only if it can be assumed that, somehow, they already know that their destination is ill-equipped to host their arrival upon immigration]. They are then forced to waive [i.e., risk] the need for energy savings and safety during the flight itself.

[Quoting Thomas Alerstam, BIRD MIGRATION (Cambridge University Press, 1993), page 316.]


Cedar Waxwing in the snow   (Fair Use/Public Domain: photo by anonymous retiree)

In fact, waxwings are resilient, able to tough out winter weather when they must.

Some birds attempt to overwinter in northern regions so long as it is [relatively] mild and they can find food. When the cold, the frost and the snow step in with full force, however, they have no alternative but to leave on winter migration.  This can be observed at Falsterbo [in Skåne, Sweden], for example, during periods of severe winter weather:  crows, finches, larks, starlings, gulls, ducks and geese leave southern Sweden and head out over the sea in a southwesterly direction towards milder regions.

Sometimes the [migratory] passage goes on in blizzard conditions, as for example on the December morning with whirling snow, less than 50 m visibility and wind strengths of over 15 m/s [i.e., > 30 mph] when Gunnar Roos logged emigration at Falsterbo of Fieldfare, Starling, Skylark, [Bohemian] Waxwing and Common Gull.

[Quoting Thomas Alerstam, BIRD MIGRATION (Cambridge University Press, 1993), page 316.]

Cedar Waxwings sharing food   (Fair Use credit; Wild for Wildlife photo)

So there you have it: Cedar Waxwings, on the move, migrating huge distances twice a year, alternating between summer and winter ranges.  Mealtimes involve a mix of snapping up fruits fallen to the ground, or happily eating (and sometimes sharing) seeds and berries while perching en banc in tree branches, or snatching “fast food” insects on the wing.  Lots of air miles for this crested traveler  — migrating with its group (and taking group “rest stops” along the way), and casually sharing the “wealth” and enjoying one another’s company, gregariously illustrating the airborne and passerine equivalents of Amos 3:3.   ><> JJSJ


Cedar Waxwing with berry (Smithsonian Nat’l Zoo photo)

Trinidad Tanagers Contradict Competition “Law” Proposed by Darwinists

Speckled Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Speckled Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Trinidad Tanagers Contradict Cutthroat Competition “Law” Proposed by Darwinists


“Survival of the fittest” has been a dominating tenet of Darwinian evolution for more than 150 years now. But a trio of colorful birds, living on islands off Venezuela’s coast, provides debunking evidence that, as Dr. Steve Austin would say, Darwin was wrong, when he alleged that do-or-die competition was the fundamental force that shapes nature. So how do these birds dispute Darwin? By eating!

PAS-Thra Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) by Michael Woodruff 2

Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) by Michael Woodruff

Three varieties of Trinidad tanagers share bugs on the same trees as they silently undermine the “natural selection” myth’s survivalism principle. Without wasteful confrontations over limited food resources, found on the same trees that each of these birds forage upon: (1) speckled tanagers pick off bugs from tree leaves, (2) bay-headed tanagers prefer to eat bugs from under large branches, and (3) turquoise tanagers snap up bugs from twigs.1

Admitting that adversarial competition was lacking, these evolutionist scientists reported the following:  “In the 1960s, two ecologists made careful [empirical] studies on the island of Trinidad of the niches of eight coexisting species of tanager–brightly colored songbirds of the New World tropics. Of the eight species, three, the speckled (Tangara guttata), the bay-headed (T. gyrola), and the turquoise tanager (T. mexicana), were extremely closely related.  They all belonged to the same genus, lived in the same trees and bushes, and fed on insects and fruit. This suggests little in the way of division of resources, for all three species seemed to be using the same ones.  More detailed field observations, though, showed up the niche differences, as is clearly demonstrated by considering one aspect of the pattern of resource division.  In hunting for small insect prey in vegetation, the speckled tanager almost exclusively searches the leaves themselves.  It clings to them upside down, picking off insects, or it walks along small twigs, picking off insects from the leaves above it.  The other two species only rarely feed like this.  Instead, both obtain most of their insect prey form the undersides of branches.  The bay-headed species does this mainly on quite substantial branches, hopping along and leaning over each side alternately to reach under it for insects.  The turquoise tanager, in contrast, almost always takes insects from fine twigs, usually those less than half an inch in diameter.  It also has a predilection for the insects found on dead twigs, which are usually untouched by the other two species.  These detailed observations show that insect food resources and specific feeding areas on the island of Trinidad are neatly split even between very closely related birds.” [Quoting from Whitfield, Moore, & Cox, THE ATLAS OF THE LIVING WORLD  — see endnote #1 below.]

In other words, illustrating what ecologists call noncompetitive niche positioning, this tanager trio avoids antagonistic competition.1 To appreciate how this peaceful prey sharing upsets the presumptions of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, and their modern ilk, it’s helpful to review why Darwin’s ideas were welcomed so fervently by academics who scoffed at Genesis.

Turquoise Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Turquoise Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Generations before Darwin’s “natural selection” theory first became popular, deists (people who essentially believed in a God yet rejected the Bible) like Charles Lyell and James Hutton, effectively laid the groundwork for the acceptance of evolution’s survivalism themes.  (Neither deists nor Darwinists anchor their research on Scripture, yet they also oppose each other.)

Both deists and Darwinists have misreported living conditions on Earth, yet they do so in opposite ways. Deists err on the “see no evil” extreme, underestimating the terrible fallenness of creation.2 Darwinists, however, overemphasize “conquer or be conquered” survivalism—even nominating death as nature’s hero and means of “progress”, instead of recognizing death as the terrible “last enemy” to be destroyed.3 Both extremes misrepresent nature as they actively oppose and/or passively ignore the facts of Scripture.   Unsurprisingly, the true portrayal of nature’s condition is found in holy Scripture, starting in Genesis, a Mosaic book that Christ Himself endorsed as authoritative (John 5:44-47).

The deists’ approach produces worthwhile observations of natural beauty, orderliness, and efficiency but then fails to account for how Earth “groans” after Eden.2  What about birds that peck other birds to death, while fighting over food and territory?  That’s not beautiful!  In the first half of the 1800s, deism failed to explain such ugly forms of competition, so many academics sought a humanistic theory that explained Earth’s uglier features—disease, deprivation, dying—without resorting to God’s revealed answers in Genesis.

Enter Charles Darwin’s magic mechanism of “natural selection”!—an animistic theory invented to substitute for God role as Creator.  This now-popular form of quasi-polytheistic animism often uses the alias “survival of the fittest.”

Darwin and his followers imagined the global ecosystem as a closed “fight-to-the-death” arena, swarming with vicious creatures scrapping for limited resources.  In a one-sum game (“red in tooth and claw,”4 adopting a phrase from Tennyson to fit Darwin’s theory), gain by one competitor meant loss to another.  This selfish competition was quickly heralded as “nature’s law”, so explaining wildlife interactions soon required interpretations based on that brutal assumption.2

But real-world data routinely refuse to fit the evolutionary paradigm. Yet like today, the  embarrassing and uncooperative facts were routinely dismissed and ignored during the 1800s and 1900s.5

Embarrassing Darwin’s theory, even moreso than a lack of wasteful competition, is the prevalent reality of mutual aid, also called mutualistic symbiosis, where different life forms help each other, such as algae and fungus coexisting as lichen or bees pollinating the flowers from which they harvest nectar. Like noncompetitive eco-niche positioning,1 mutual aid doesn’t harmonize with Darwin’s antagonistic competition “song,” so mutual reciprocity (and self-sacrificing altruism) displays are also censured from or marginalized by academics who are gatekeepers of science education curricula.6

Consequently, field studies are often skewed by researchers who quickly jump to conclusions that endorse antagonistic survivalism—as if “natural law” always requires adversarial competition.

Even today, modern Darwinians (both atheistic and theistic), lauding mystical “natural selection”, trumpet creation’s fallenness as Earth’s foremost feature — all the while discarding or disparaging or detouring the historical documentation that God has provided in Genesis regarding what triggered Earth’s undeniable fallenness.

Meanwhile, creatures like tree-snacking Trinidad tanagers make a mockery of Darwinian dogma, as they peaceably share food.


  1. Philip Whitfield, Peter D. Moore, & Barry Cox, The Atlas of the Living World (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989), pages 100-101 (quotation taken from page 100; picture portraying non-competitive eco-niche positioning on page 101).
  2. Deists believe in an intelligent Creator God, so they expect Him to make a “perfect” creation. However, because they dismiss the Bible, they imaginatively philosophize about what they think a perfect God would do with His creation—as they self-confidently assume that they know how a perfect God would think and act. Accordingly, deists are quick to recognize God’s caring handiwork in nature; they see orderliness, logic, beauty, and many good things — but they totally miss God’s wisdom as it is displayed in allowing Adam’s choice to trigger the earth’s present “groaning”, which is a temporary condition that (due to redemption in Christ) will be succeeded by a better-than-the-originally-perfect situation (that then needed no redemptive restoration by Christ). See James J. S. Johnson, Misreading Earth’s Groanings: Why Evolutionists and Intelligent Design Proponents Fail Ecology 101. Acts & Facts. 39 (8): 8-9 (August 2010).
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:26.
  4. Darwinists hijacked this phrase from Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H., Canto 56 (1849).
  5. James J. S. Johnson, Jeff Tomkins, & Brian Thomas. 2009. Dinosaur DNA Research: Is the Tale Wagging the Evidence? Acts & Facts, 38 (10): 4-6 (October 2009); James J. S. Johnson, Cherry Picking the Data Is the Pits, Acts & Facts, 44 (7): 19 (July 2015).
  6. Gary Parker, 1978. Nature’s Challenge to Evolutionary Theory, Acts & Facts, 7 (10), July 1978; James J. S. Johnson, “Providential Planting: The Pinyon Jay”, Creation Ex Nihilo. 19 (3): 24-25 (1997); Steve Austin, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe. Santee, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1994), pages 156-159.

Dr. James J. S. Johnson formerly taught ornithology/ avian conservation, as well as courses in  ecology, limnology, and bioscience, for Dallas Christian College, and continues to be a “serious birder”.  A condensed version of this creation science article appears as James J. S. Johnson, Tree-Snacking Tanagers Undermine Darwin, Acts & Facts, 45 (6):21 (June 2016).