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Cedar Waxwings - Spring Courtship

Frequent photo contributor, Gregg Thompson, writes:

"I recently ran into a flock of Cedar Waxwings that seemed to be acting differently than I have seen before. At first, I noticed two individuals on a branch, and one would sort of sidle up to the other one."

Cornell's Birds of North America Online describes exactly what Gregg saw:
"Typical courtship display in which mates alternately approach one another on a perch with hopping movements, sometimes touching bills. Usually initiated by the male; successful when the female reciprocates.” (Putnam 1949)

It’s called the “courtship dance” or “courtship-hopping.” (Video below)
The birds pass a small item – usually a berry, fruit, flower petal, or insect – back and forth.

The birds also hop away from and back toward their mate.

And as in the child’s game, Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?, sometimes the object isn’t actually delivered.

BNA says further: “This display is usually initiated by the male, who obtains a food item and joins the female at a perch.” Based on that information, Gregg thinks the bird on the left is the male.

It’s highly choreographed, with the female receiving the “gift,” then hopping away and back, and returning it to the male.

The birds turn their heads in the same direction...

...and then away.

You can see why it’s called a dance.

The male may bow between hops.

How many exchanges do you count? Do you see the frame where the lower bird is airborne?

Ah, spring. Warms your heart, doesn't it?


* All photographs © Gregg Thompson. Thanks, Gregg!
* Listen to a BirdNote show about Cedar Waxwings.
* Learn how to attract Cedar Waxwings to your yard.
* Check out this video by William Stifel of the Cedar Waxwings' courtship

Learn more at Birds of North America Online (paid subscription only).

Sights & Sounds