Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Spark Bird, the Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). 
The bird colored by the paint of sunsets, with purples and reds and a tail dipped in bright yellow.
Photo courtesy Huevos Rancheros (March 15, 2010)
I remember when I first noticed this avian masterpiece, just a little over a year ago. This bird was art; even the crest on its head resembled a paintbrush.

A month or so later I would first hear the term Spark Bird, along with a litany of terms used fluently within the birding community. A few months after this, I would be fluent in that language too, but that’s a different story.

So what is a Spark Bird, exactly? This is that certain bird species that ignites within a person a spark and passion for bird watching (or birding, as we say).

Ken Keffer asks, “Do you remember the moment you were first fully captivated by nature? Can you pinpoint the split second that changed you from a casual observer to someone passionate about the outdoors?” He later says, “Spark birds ignite curiosity and fuel the desire to learn more about nature, leading you to a lifetime of birdwatching.” See Ken’s article, “Spark Birds: Learning to LoveBirdwatching”

After first seeing the colorful Cedar Waxwing (usually surrounded by other waxwings, making their characteristic high buzzy/buggy sounds), I began to notice more of them, more frequently. Cedar Waxwings became a symbol of the spirit of the start of my birding journey. That spirit is one that continues to guide me; it is one of gratitude and constant wonder.

 “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

Today, my senses have sharpened. I can pick out the calls of waxwings, trilling out across summer evenings. I can read their silhouettes amid trees on the sides of highways. I can sometimes even predict which trees they’ll flock to, especially the short, berry-filled kinds you find in parking lots sometimes. I can recall the waxwing flight pattern as it hover attacks insects in mid-air, retreating back to exposed branch perches.

One day a complete stranger was walking by in the woods as I observed a Cedar Waxwing above me. I witnessed the man scanning the branches so I pointed and gave instructions, guiding his line of sight. I saw his face change and alight when he found the magical bird; then he looked at me with appreciation. I felt like I had passed along something meaningful that day.

How about you?
Do you have a spark bird?
Share your stories with me!


  1. Nice post! I don't have a particular bird that was a spark. Instead it was an Eagle walk that had been suggested to my wife by a friend, and on that walk we met some experienced birders. I was blown away at all they knew about not only birds but seemingly everything in nature. It was only natural to become a birder and it has been a joy to have another excuse to go outside and to also have new friends to share experiences you can only get from nature.

    1. I too had a "spark event" in addition to my Cedar Waxwing inspiration... a "how to use eBird" seminar at Red Oaks last August (ish). Once I knew about eBird, I knew this would quickly evolve into something major for me. So glad to find this network of people who, like you said, are SO knowledgeable, and also who understand the peace that comes from connecting with nature. What I love is that it is always there waiting to be explored or waiting to provide refuge from whatever else is going on. Hopefully there will always be people like us who know how much it matters- us keepers of nature.

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  3. Thank you, Professor Rawlings! :)

  4. I realize I am really late to the party of this entry, but I just discovered your blog and I appreciate your effort in creating it. I will piggy-back off of your spark bird and let you know that mine was exactly the same: the Cedar Waxwing. For 38 years (every year of my life), my family has rented a cabin on a lake ten miles south of the Mackinaw Bridge. A few years back we were startled to look out our kitchen window and see what appeared to be a nondescript baby bird that had fallen from the nest. We shared the requisite sadness, but were taken aback when this beautiful brown, spiked, masked bird flew to the ground to examine its offspring. I was floored; I had to know what that bird was. I researched and found it, and I have now become an obsessive birder. I've realized, like most everyone who falls under their spell, enough is never enough.
    I was a longtime Sterling Heights resident(now Lapeer) and I have met quite a few Macomb County birders in the last two years, whether it be at Metro or Stony Creek or other assorted hotspots. You are lucky to have such a strong birding community to bird and learn with. Maybe our birding paths will cross one day. In the meantime I wish you continued success and happiness on your own birding journey.

    1. Wow Chris, NEVER too late to comment :) I Love that an older post is still getting Love. And I really appreciate your comment. I can tell you have the same crazy amazing disease that I have. If you're from Sterling Heights and Lapeer, I'm positive we know some of the same people. I hope to meet you one day as well. If you'd like to follow me on Facebook or Twitter, please do. I'd Love to share birding moments with you and anyone lucky enough to feel the spark. Thank you. <3

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