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Birds rare to state sighted on campus

by Ashley Sporleder, CLAS ’08 - April 28, 2008

During the past couple of weeks, small groups of visitors have been seen walking along North Eagleville Road, binoculars in hand, their eyes focused on the trees.

They weren’t tourists or prospective students.

Instead, they were bird watchers and they had one goal: to catch a glimpse of the rare Bohemian Waxwing that a graduate student had spotted perched among a group of more common Cedar Waxwings in a crab apple tree outside the CLAS building.

The sighting was only the third time in the past 15 years that a Bohemian Waxwing – the rarest of the species named for their red wing tips resembling drops of sealing wax – is known to have made the long journey from the northern forests of Canada to settle in Connecticut.

While groups of Cedar Waxwings, which have a distinct brownish-gray color and yellow underbellies, are common during winter and occasionally summer too, the Bohemian is not normally seen in New England.

Larger in size, and characterized by a deep gray hue, whiter wings, reddish under-tail, and a more waxy appearance, the Bohemian Waxwing’s arrival provided a treat for birdwatchers from across the state, including the director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, who traveled to Storrs to catch a glimpse.

“They truly are gorgeous birds,” says Chris Elphick, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who specializes in ornithology and conservation biology. “This was very rare.”

Once all last year’s fruit was gone from the trees outside CLAS, the Bohemian relocated to another crab apple tree outside the Goodyear building of the Northwest residence halls, where it was joined by a new flock of migrants.

To date, as many as nine Bohemian Waxwings have been sighted throughout campus.

Elphick said it was most likely an inadequate food supply and insufficient breeding habitats that caused the birds to migrate so far south.

A Bohemian Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus.
A Bohemian Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus.
Photo by Mark Szantry


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