Skagway Wildlife Spotlight
The Bohemian Waxwing
Amazing Skagway wildlife is everywhere.
If you travel to Skagway during the summer, wildlife is pretty much everywhere. You may see a bear on your Skagway tour, an eagle by your cruise ship, and a mountain goat while you’re on the train. You will see so much Skagway wildlife that you’ll probably just get tired of it and want to go back to the ship. But what if you’re one of the half-dozen or so tourists that come to Skagway during the winter? What kind of wildlife will you see in the middle of January when it’s 10 degrees and the wind is blowing 70 miles per hour?
How about a Bohemian waxwing?
What the heck kind of Skagway wildlife is a Bohemian waxwing, you ask? It’s a variety of songbird that loves to hang around in Skagway during the winter. It’s common to see flocks of these things in trees, on the ground, and just about everywhere else.
The Bohemian waxwing kind of looks like a cardinal with a paint job. It’s got a splash of red and yellow around the wings that makes them easy to identify. Plus, there aren’t many other varieties of Skagway wildlife to see during the winter, so it’s hard to mix them up with other things.
Why are there so many Bohemian waxwings in Skagway?
Good question. When most other varieties of Skagway wildlife are hunkering down for the winter, waxwings are happy flitting about like they own the place. So, what’s the deal with that?
Birds, like people, like to be where the food is. During the winter, Skagway has a lot of food that waxwings like, but this wasn’t always the case. You see, there is a tree in Skagway that you’ll see in just about every neighborhood. It’s called the European mountain ash. If you noticed, it’s a European tree, which means it is not native to Alaska.
A few decades ago, some people got the bright idea of planting an invasive species of tree all over town. Mountain ash trees have a shallow root system, so when you plant one tree, a whole bunch more will pop up around it. Plus they grow super-fast. In just a few years, mountain ash trees were like cockroaches in a dark basement. Just look for trees with bright red berries, and you’ll have spotted a European mountain ash.
Bohemian waxwings love mountain ash trees
The pretty red berries of the mountain ash ripen during late summer. They remain on the tree throughout the cold winters because they don’t just fall off the tree. Bohemian waxwings come along and perch all over the mountain ash tree branches and eat berries like a fat kid in a doughnut shop. There are so many of these trees in Skagway, the waxwings can literally get fat off of berries. However, they also have an ulterior motive.
Bohemian waxwings are notorious alcoholics
Sometimes during the winter, the mountain ash berries will ferment. By this time, the waxwings are fat and happy and ready to get into some serious mischief. This is when they start feasting on fermented berries. Why? Because they’re looking for a cheap buzz.
Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!
Waxwings will get so wasted on mountain ash berries that they’ll stumble all over people’s lawns, fly into windows, and terrorize other birds. Unfortunately for them, local house cats know all about their substance abuse issues and attack when they least expect it. Other predators like sharp-shinned hawks and Arctic foxes also target Bohemian boozers on Bacchanalian benders, seriously depleting their numbers before the onset of spring.
Isn’t nature something?
Currently, there are no 12 step programs for dipsomaniac waxwings, which is kind of sad. Still, if you’re one of the few that get to visit Skagway in January, be sure to keep an eye out for the Bohemian waxwing. Just don’t let them get a hold of your six-pack.