12 December 2007

Poor Dead Cedar Waxwing

In the first episode of the fantastic sketch comedy show "Mr. Show", Bob Odenkirk's Terry the Cameraman character mentions offhandedly how he received a baked carrot from the Society for Unpleasant Gifts. I thought of this briefly when Kellie's co-worker Jennifer gave me this window-collisioned Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum).

Nice and fluffy after a near-thaw

A few weeks later, just pulled from the freezer

It's quite a thoughtful gift, though, from an interesting and interested woman. The poor thing (the bird, not the gift-giver) had been one of a flock to be flushed from her parents' yard in Rhode Island on Thanksgiving. Besides the wife's pet Budgerigar, I've never been closer to a bird than through my binoculars. So now I guess I've got a specimen. In the freezer door.

For the past, jeez, two months or so now (Kellie the librarian I'm sure could tell me exactly how long) I've been reading David Sibley's excellent The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. And coincidentally enough, soon after receiving the dead bird, I came upon the Waxwings chapter. And I quote (extensively):

Waxwings are named for the red waxy "droplets" on the ends of the secondary flight feathers of adults.... The color of the droplets comes from carotenoid pigments that are found in the birds' diet of fruit and that cannot be synthesized by the birds directly.... In the bombycillids [i.e. waxwings], deposits of a bright red carotenoid (astaxanthin) are concentrated in flat, expanded extensions of the rachis that project beyond the feather vanes. Immature waxwings have few or no droplets, but the number and size of droplets gradually increases with each basic molt, at least over the first few years.

In the tail, the yellow carotenoids are normally incorporated into the vanes at the tips of the feathers, producing a yellow band across the tip of the tail that is not waxy like the wingtips.

Wow! I had no idea about any of that! Let's take a look at that, exclamation point!

Again, again!

Now that I've discovered that tidbit, however, I'm unsure of what to do with the carcass. I feel like I should donate it to a collection to be taxidermied, or have it necropsied, or something else; even though it's a familiar bird that died a quotidian death, it must still be of some scientific worth. I know nothing of the subspecies, or what to measure to determine which subspecies it might be. Any suggestions?

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