One of the most attractive birds you may see in your backyard is the nomadic Cedar Waxwing. In fall Cedar Waxwings gather in small to large feeding flocks to feed on berries, filling the air with their high, thin, whistles. These flocks generally appear abruptly feeding on berries and smallfruits hanging around until the supply of food is gone, and then so are the Waxwings. These birds are not at all predictable when and where they will appear. Some years I will have flocks of Cedar Waxwings feeding on the berries of the Hackberry trees in my yard, other years none will show up. During the summer you may see them hawking for insects, devouring ripened berries, or eating various types of web worms.
Cedar waxwings are a medium sized bird approximately 6 to 7 long and weighing around 2 ounces. They are smaller and browner than their close relative, the Bohemian Waxwing (which breeds farther to the north and west). It is a “silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, black mask. These birds’ most prominent feature is a small cluster of red wax-like droplets on tips of secondary flight feathers on the wings, a feature they share with the Bohemian Waxwing. The wings are “broad and pointed, like a starling’s. The tail is somewhat short, and square-tipped with a terminal band on the end that is typically yellow or orange depending on diet. Birds that have fed on the berries of an introduced Eurasian honeysuckle while growing tail feathers will have darker orange-tipped tail-feathers. Adult Waxwings have a pale yellow belly and a crest that often “lies flat and droops over the back of the head. The Waxwing’s black mask has a thin white border above a short wide bill. Immature Cedar Waxwings are streaked on the throat and flanks, and often do not have the black mask of the adults. Adult males and females look alike. One of the most striking characteristics of a Waxwing, other than the unique coloration, is the smooth appearance of its feathers that seem to resemble well groomed fur.
Cedar Waxwings are typically a woodland bird, particularly along streams, but you may also find them in fields and grasslands with scattered trees. With the increased use 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. In fact the name Cedar Waxwing derives from their appetite for cedar berries in winter and the wax like tip on the feathers.
Cedar Waxwings are sociable and are seen in flocks year round. They are non-territorial birds and will often groom each other .They move from place to place depending on where they can find good sources of berries. They will often nest in loose clusters of up to a dozen nests and more.
Cedar Waxwings generally nest in early to mid-summer when a good food supply for their young becomes available. Although both adults will search out a nesting site together it is the female that makes the final selection. The female does most the nest construction although if there is a second nesting the male will assist with that one. She builds a bulky nest with a variety of materials composed of twigs, grasses, plant down, hair, and similar materials. When finished it will be 5 inches across and 3 inches high and lined with fine rootlets and grass. She may even decorate the exterior with flowering catkins from nearby trees. The female Waxwing may make as many as 2500 trips to the nest site over a 5 to 6 day period during construction. Once completed she will lay a clutch of 2 to 6 pale blue or blue gray eggs sometimes spotted with black or gray. She will incubate them for 11 to 13 days and the young chicks will remain in the nest for another 14 to 18 days.
Outside the breeding season Cedar Waxwings are nomadic and irruptive, with erratic winter movements. They can be found in Nebraska throughout the winter months provided there are good food resources available. In fact during the fall and winter months these birds can be very confident and will come into gardens and yards to feed on the berries of bushes and trees, bathing and drinking from fountains or bird baths. Most of the population of Cedar Waxwings migrate farther south in the United States sometimes reaching as far as northern South America. They will move in huge numbers if berry supplies are low looking for new food sources. Individual Bohemian Waxwings will occasionally join large winter flocks of Cedar Waxwings.
The conservation status of Cedar Waxwings has a fairly good outlook as they are currently listed as a “bird of least concern” meaning their population seems to be increasing. But that could change dramatically as more fields are plowed for crops and habitats altered for development.
With the proper habitat and a water source it is possible you will see these beautiful birds in your yard some time during the year. Trips to state parks and wildlife areas often produce some outstanding views of these birds if you look for them. No matter where you find them, they are truly a site to behold and a lot of fun to watch.
Wingtips: Berry producing shrubs and trees can entice Cedar Waxwings into your yard along with a number of other interesting songbirds. A few plants readily available that attract these birds are: serviceberry, strawberry, mulberry, dogwoods, raspberries and various Viburnums. Crabapple, junipers, mountain ash and Washington Hawthorns are berry producing trees these birds will flock to. Combined with a source of fresh water you’ll be delighted by the variety of songbirds you attract along with the Cedar Waxwing.