The waxwings exemplify the close link that exists between birds and berries. Each winter, large numbers of two species, the Bohemian Waxwing and the Japanese Waxwing, migrate to Japan. Waxwings are rovers, staying in one spot just as long as their preferred foods, berries from specific trees, are plentiful, and then moving on to a different tree, or, more commonly, a different area entirely.
They are attracted to Japanese Rowan and Japanese Mistletoe in particular. The rowan produces dense corymbs of brilliant red berries and has lovely fiery red fall leaves. Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that clings to other trees and produces creamy white, pale yellowish-green, or red berries while photosynthesizing and taking water and minerals from its host. The waxwings’ lives are inextricably linked to the golden bough’s, as they adore not only the sparkling pearly-white berries but also the faintly green and waxen red ones.
Mistletoe and waxwings appear to have co-evolved a fascinating, magical interdependent existence that spells ‘Winter’ to birds. Waxwings are ‘gulpers-and-dumpers,’ meaning they eat whole berries and then dump out the seeds after a long period of digestion. The waxwings’ droppings are similarly sticky to the mistletoe’s berries, making them excellent for sticking to branches, where the seeds sprout into the next generation of mistletoes.
Waxwings, like thrushes, stripe their feathers. While they do not peel off layers of feathers, they do congregate in flocks and attack berry-bearing trees, shrubs, and mistletoes, stripping them of all fruit before moving on.
Unlike the Bohemian Waxwing, which has a Holarctic range that includes North America and northern Eurasia, the Japanese Waxwing has a very limited territory in East Asia, making it a highly sought-after species. The most noticeable difference is that the Japanese Waxwing’s tail has a red tip rather than a yellow one.