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Winter Birdwatching: Illustrious Cedar Waxwings


Winter Birdwatching: Illustrious Cedar Waxwings

The Cedar Waxwing is one of the most beautiful winter birds in our area. It is a gorgeous silky brown, with a lovely crest and black mask. It has a conspicuous yellow tip on the tail. Their feathers are always smooth and they look as though they are “waxed” and polished regularly. 

The most curious feature of this bird is its droplets of red wax on its inner-wing feathers. No one really knows what these wax droplets are for. However, some authorities believe it is a mating signal to other Cedar Waxwings. Young birds do not have any wax droplets. They accumulate more of these droplets as they get older. They can have anywhere from no droplets, up to eight red wax droplets on each wing. Mated pairs usually have a similar number of droplets and are of similar ages. They can live up to seven years. 

Cedar Waxwings typically travel in very large flocks, often hundreds together. They are usually detected first by their sound – a very thin, high-pitched, buzzy whistle. If you hear this sound, look up. You will often be treated to a tight, whirling flock of small birds. Or they might be sitting inconspicuously in a nearby tree, having gone totally undetected until their buzzy whistle was heard. 

Cedar Waxwings eat fruits and berries almost exclusively. They will often congregate with American Robins traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood, searching for ripe fruits and berries. They will descend upon a neighborhood when the Privet or Cotoneaster berries are ripe, and only move on after the berries are completely stripped. –They will then find a new neighborhood to descend upon. Other berries eaten by waxwings are cedar, juniper, hawthorn, elderberries, madrone, and mistletoe. They are also very fond of ripe persimmons. 

Waxwings cannot digest the seeds of the fruits they eat. The seeds are deposited in their droppings and planted wherever they may wander. And Cedar Waxwings are very nomadic, wandering around the countryside and neighborhoods, always searching for the perfect berry patch. This makes them very important seed- dispersers in our natural environment. 

Cedar Waxwings are increasing in number all across North America. This is likely due to planted ornamental shrubs. As of yet, there are no confirmed breeding records for Cedar Waxwing in Sonoma County. But, this may happen in the future, especially if their numbers continue to increase throughout their range. 

If you are not lucky enough to have berry bushes or fruit trees in your yard, you can still attract Cedar Waxwings. Try putting out small pieces of apple or other berries on a table. This might work. Also, Cedar Waxwings are often very thirsty. Birds that eat fruits need more liquid in their diets than insect-eaters. So, a water bath can be very attractive to them. But, be sure to keep the water fresh.