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Our Backyard Birds: The Cedar Waxwing

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A  Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) eating a Yaupon Holly berry
Cedar Waxwing With Berry

Our Backyard Birds:

The Cedar Waxwing

(Bombycilla cedrorum)

 

ATTENTION: One of my blog readers, who has been following my posts for a long time, recently informed me that the bush in the above image is a Nandina Heavenly Bamboo. They also pointed out that eating a large quantity of the berries produced by this plant can be harmful to birds. We have been trying to identify this plant since we moved here, and now that we know what it is, we will remove it from the property as soon as possible. I am grateful to Brenda for bringing this to my attention.


Food:

Cedar Waxwings are fruit eaters, or frugivores, and rely on fruits and berries to survive the cold winter months. During the warmer months, they eat a lot of insects. If you want to attract more Cedar Waxwings to your yard, consider planting native trees and shrubs that produce fruit they can easily eat. Some trees that are ideal for backyard Cedar Waxwings are Crabapples, Mulberry, Flowering dogwood, Eastern red cedar, and Juniper. Some shrubs or bushes to consider are American holly, juniper, elderberry, mountain ash, honeysuckle, raspberries, and strawberries.



Feeder:

During the winter months when natural food sources are scarce, bird feeders can be an effective way to attract Cedar Waxwings to your yard. Cedar Waxwings have a particular fondness for fruit, so selecting a feeder that can accommodate cut-up pieces of apple, pear, or berries is ideal. To offer fruit to Cedar Waxwings, a shallow platform feeder is the best option.



Appearance:

Cedar waxwings are medium-sized birds that get their name from their wax-like wingtips. Their markings consist of a silky, shiny mix of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, with a subdued crest, a black mask, and bright-red wax droplets on their wing feathers. Cedar waxwings are easy to identify because of their unique crest and wax-droplet wing markings, but distinguishing between males and females can be a bit tricky. When observing pairs, subtle differences in size and coloration can help to identify the sex of the birds. Both male and female cedar waxwings have a dark chin patch of feathers, with the male's being a slightly darker shade. The male also has a slightly thicker tail than the female. During the breeding season, females are slightly heavier than males. Identifying lone birds can be a challenge, but looking for these subtle differences can help. Good luck!



Information:

The Cedar waxwing, a bird species native to North and Central America, is also known as the Canada robin, the cherry bird, or the recellet. The bird's name 'cedar' is derived from its favorite food, which is the cedar berry, while 'waxwing' comes from the wax-like secretion present on the tips of their wings. 


A pair of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) on a limb.
Cedar Waxwings On A Limb

The Cedar Waxwing's red wingtips are not made of wax; rather, they are an accumulation of the pigment astaxanthin, which is found in red fruit. As the bird ages, the size and number of these tips increase. Younger birds may not have any red wingtips at all. Some scientists believe that these waxy tips may be used by the birds to communicate important information, such as age and social status, to other members of their flock.


The waxwing's striking yellow tail tip is also the result of the carotenoids that color the fruit this species loves to eat. In recent years, waxwings eating the fruits of an introduced honeysuckle have grown orange-tailed tips instead!


Cedar Waxwings are very sociable birds and are often found nesting in loose clusters of a dozen nests. They form large flocks and have a unique feeding habit where they pluck fruits one by one and swallow them whole. They feed while perched on a twig or by hovering just below a bunch of berries. When feeding on insects, they either fly out from an exposed perch or make long, zig-zagging flights over water.


  During courtship, males and females hop towards each other, alternating back and forth and sometimes touching their bills together. Males often present a small item like a fruit, insect, or flower petal to the female. After taking the item, the female usually hops away and returns, giving the item back to the male. This process is repeated a few times until the female usually eats the gift. Cedar Waxwings have a strong and steady flight style with fairly constant wingbeats.

 

Cedar Waxwings are easily recognizable due to their unique, high-pitched calls, often described as "sree," which they emit frequently while flying.


The number of Cedar Waxwings has been on the rise for a few years, partly thanks to the use of berry-producing trees in landscaping, as well as the conversion of agricultural land to forest. Additionally, they are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


A portrait of a Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum).
Cedar Waxwing Portrait

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the Cedar Waxwing and how you can attract them to your backyard. If this is your first time visiting my website or reading one of my blog posts, welcome, and thank you for joining us. Please subscribe here so you can receive updates on the next blog posts on Backyard Birding. You will also receive occasional discounts and newsletters. Remember to follow the Nature First and Leave No Trace principles and always strive to leave places better than you found them. Please share this blog post with your friends and family who have a love for birds, bird photography, or backyard birding.


David


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