1902 Encyclopedia > Waxwing


WAXWING, a bird first so-called apparently by Selby in 1825 (Illustr. Brit. Ornithology, p. 87), having been before known as the "Silk-tail" (Philos. Transactions, 1685, p. 1161)—a literal rendering of the German Seidenschwanz—or " Chatterer "—the prefix " German," " Bohemian," or "Waxen" being often also applied. Selby's convenient name has now been generally adopted, since the bird is readily distinguished from almost all others by the curious expansion of the shaft of some of its wing-feathers at the tip into a flake that looks like scarlet sealing-wax, while its exceedingly silent habit makes the name " Chatterer " wholly inappropriate, and indeed this last arose from a misinterpretation of the specific term garrulus, meaning a Jay (from the general resemblance in colour of the two birds), and not referring to any garrulous quality. It is the Ampelis garrulus of Linnaeus and of more recent ornithologists.1

The Waxwingis a bird that for many years excited vast interest. An irregular winter-visitant, sometimes in countless hordes, to the whole of the central and some parts of southern Europe, it was of old time looked upon as the harbinger of war, plague, or death, and, while its harmonious coloration and the grace of its form were attractive, the curiosity with which its irregular appearances were regarded was enhanced by the mystery which enshrouded its birth-place, and until the summer of 1856 defied the searching of any explorer. In that year, however, all doubt was dispelled, through the successful search in Lapland, organized by the late John Wolley, as briefly described by him to the Zoological Society (Proceedings, 1857, pp. 55, 56, pi. exxii.).2 In 1858 Mr Dresser found a small settlement of the species on an island in the Baltic near Uleaborg, and with his own hands took a nest. It is now pretty evident that the Waxwing, though doubtless breeding yearly in some parts of northern Europe, is as irregular in the choice of its summer-quarters as in that of its winter-retreats. Moreover, the species exhibits the same irregular habits in America. Mr Drexler on one occasion, in Nebraska, saw it in "millions." In 1861 Kennicott found it breed-ing on the Yukon, and later Mr MacFarlane had the like good fortune on the Anderson River.

Beautiful as is the bird with its drooping crest, its cinnamon-brown plumage passing in parts into grey or chestnut, and relieved by black, white, and yellow—all of the purest tint—the external feature which has invited most attention is the "sealing-wax" (already mentioned) which tips some of the secondary or radial quills, and occasionally those of the tail. This is nearly as much exhibited by the kindred species, A. cedrorum—the well-known Cedar-bird of the English in North America—which is easily distinguished by its smaller size, less black ehin-spot, the yellower tinge of the lower parts, and the want of white on the wings. In the A. pkcenicopterus of south-eastern Siberia and Japan, the remiges and rectrices are tipped with red in the ordinary way without dilatation of the shaft of the feathers.
Both the Waxwing and Cedar-bird seem to live chiefly on insects in summer, but are marvellously addicted to berries during the rest of the year, and will gorge themselves if opportunity allow. Hence they are not pleasant cage-birds, though quickly becoming tame. The erratic habits of the Waxwing are probably due chiefly to the supplies of food it may require, prompted also by the number of mouths to be fed, for there is some reason to think that this varies greatly from one year to another, according to season. The flocks which visit Britain and other countries outside the breeding range of the species naturally contain a very large proportion of young birds.

The systematic position of the genus Ampelis is very doubt-ful. It can hardly be said to have any near ally, for neither of the Neotropical and Antillean genera, Ptilogonys and Myiodectes (often erroneously spelt Myiadestes), can as yet be safely declared of kin to it, as has been alleged, (A. N.)


460-1 Some writers, ignoring historical facts, have taken a South-American form (now known to belong to a wholly distinct Suborder of Birds) as the " type " of the Linnsean genus Ampelis. Linnaeus had, as is well known, no conception of what is meant by the modern idea of a " type"; but none can doubt that, if such a notion had been entertained by him, he would have declared his type-species to be that to which the name was first applied, viz., the present, and hence those systematists are wrong who would remove this to a genus variously called Bombycilla, Bombiciphora, or, most absurd of all, Bombicivora The birds which ought to be removed from Ampelis are those which are now generally recognized as forming a Family Cotingidie, allied to the Pipridm (cf. MANAKIK), and like them peculiar to the Neotropical Region, in the fauna of which they constitute, according to the in-vestigations of Garrod and Forbes (ORNITHOLOGY, vol. xviii. pp. 41, 47), the natural group Oligomyodte.

460-2 A fuller account of his discovery, illustrated by Hewitson, is i given in The Ibis (1861, pp. 92-106, pi. iv.).

461-1 The structure of these appendages has been carefully described by Herr Andersen ((Efvers. K. Vet.-Ak. Forhandlingar, 1859, pp. 219-231, pi. ii.). Their development seems chiefly due to age, though, as Wolley shewed, they are perceptible in the nestling plumage. Mr Turner states (Contr. Nat. Hist. Alaska, p. 177) that the Eskimo name of the Waxwing means a "killer of small birds," these append-ages being held to be " the clotted blood of its victims" !

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