Derby watching the cedar waxwings sitting on the holly
bushes by the bedroom window.
A treat to find in your binocular view field, the Cedar Waxwing
is a silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow,
accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red
wax droplets on the wing feathers. In fall these birds gather by the
hundreds to eat berries, filling the air with their high, thin,
whistles. In summer you’re as likely to find them flitting
about over rivers in pursuit of flying insects, where they show
off dazzling aeronautics for a forest bird.
Cedar Waxwings inhabit deciduous, coniferous, and mixed
woodlands, particularly areas along streams. You may also find
them in old fields, grasslands, sagebrush, and even along
desert washes. With the spread of ornamental berry trees in landscaping,
Cedar Waxwings are increasingly common in towns and suburbs.
In winter, Cedar Waxwings are most abundant around fruiting plants
in open woodlands, parks, gardens, forest edges, and second-growth forests.
Birds that winter in the tropics tend to inhabit highlands.
Cedar Waxwings feed mainly on fruits year-round.
In summer, they feed on fruits such as serviceberry, strawberry,
mulberry, dogwood, and raspberries. The birds’ name derives from
their appetite for cedar berries in winter; they also eat mistletoe,
madrone, juniper, mountain ash, honeysuckle, crabapple, hawthorn,
and Russian olive fruits. In summer Cedar Waxwings supplement
their fruit diet with protein-rich insects including mayflies, dragonflies,
and stoneflies, often caught on the wing. They also pick items such
as scale insects, spruce budworm, and leaf beetles directly from vegetation.
Female waxwings do almost all the nest building;
males may do some construction for the second nest of a season.
The female weaves twigs, grasses, cattail down, blossoms, string,
horsehair, and similar materials into a bulky cup about 5 inches across
and 3 inches high. She lines this cup with fine roots, grasses,
and pine needles and may decorate the outside with fruiting
grasses or oak and hickory catkins. Construction takes 5 to 6 days
and may require more than 2,500 individual trips to the nest.
Waxwings occasionally save time by taking nest materials from
other birds’ nests, including Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow-throated
Vireos, orioles, robins, and Yellow Warblers.
Cedar Waxwings are social birds that form large flocks
and often nest in loose clusters of a dozen or so nests.
When feeding on fruits, Cedar Waxwings pluck them one by one
and swallow the entire thing at once. They typically feed while
perched on a twig, but they’re also good at grabbing berries
while hovering briefly just below a bunch. When eating insects,
waxwings either fly out from an exposed perch, or make long,
zig-zagging flights over water.
The name "waxwing" comes from the waxy red secretions
found on the tips of the secondaries of some birds. The exact function
of these tips is not known, but they may help attract mates.
The Cedar Waxwing is one of the few North American birds
that specializes in eating fruit. It can survive on fruit
alone for several months.