Cedar Waxwing

Common Name: Cedar Waxwing.

Scientific Name: Bombycilla Cedrorum.

What to look for?  A treat to see because they are unique in their color. With a prominent crest, you may, at first sight, think Northern Cardinal except for their very unusual color pattern. The Cedar Waxwing has a collection of colors. Its body is primarily brown with some gray and lemon-yellow. The Cedar Waxwing has a characteristic black “bandit” mask that gives it a slightly disreputable appearance. Its wing feathers transition from brown to gray to dark gray or black. Many Cedar Waxwings have the brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers. This red appears on the tips of their secondary wings and appear to be status signals that function in mate selection and, interestingly, increase in number and size with the age of the Cedar Waxwing. The tips of its tail wings are yellow (see photo) looking as if dipped in paint like an artist"s brush!

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? While you can find Cedar Waxwings around here all year, your better opportunity will in the fall as berries begin to ripen. Look up in the shrubs, bushes and trees in your yards and the woods around Carillon Stonegate Pond and you may see one snatching a berry.

How big are they? The Cedar Waxwing averages around six inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately ten inches. They weigh in at just over one ounce.

What are their flight patterns? Cedar Waxwings have a strong, steady flight style with fairly constant wingbeats. The movement of the flock in flight resembles that of a flock of small starlings - big unruly flocks that grow, shrink, divide, and rejoin. When eating insects, Cedar Waxwings either fly out from an exposed perch, or make long, zig-zagging flights over water.

How else do they behave? These birds are sociable at all seasons, and it is rare to see just one Cedar Waxwing. They descend on berry-laden trees and hedges to feast. When feeding on fruits, Cedar Waxwings pluck them one by one and swallow the entire thing at once. They are non-territorial and will often groom each other.

What’s for dinner? Berries and insects! Cedar Waxwings are fruit-eaters, or frugivorous, and feed mainly on fruits year-round, including serviceberry, strawberry, mulberry, dogwood, raspberries, and cedar berries (hence, their name!). In summer, Cedar Waxwings supplement their fruit diet with protein-rich insects, including mayflies, dragonflies, and stoneflies, which are often caught in flight.

Where do they take up residence? Cedar Waxwings reside from southern Canada and throughout the continental United States.  Cedar Waxwings inhabit deciduous, coniferous, and mixed woodlands, particularly areas along streams. And with the spread of ornamental berry trees in landscaping, Cedar Waxwings are increasingly common in towns and suburbs.

Where do they breed and nest? Breeding season for Cedar Waxwings begins much later in the year than other songbirds - late spring through late summer. This coincides with the availability of summer-ripening fruits. Cedar Waxwings often nest in loose clusters of a dozen or so nests. Nests are typically in the fork of a horizontal branch, up high in a variety of trees such as maples, pines, cedars, apple, pear, hawthorn, and bur oak.

Where do they migrate? Cedar Waxwings are nomadic and irruptive, and wander in search of food sources, rather than undertake a typical migration. Fruit availability may be a more important predictor of winter presence than temperature or latitude. That said, most populations do migrate south for the winter.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Cedar Waxwing has seen stable populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 64 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Cedar Waxwings are often heard before they’re seen, so learn their high-pitched call notes.  Cedar Waxwings have two common calls: a high-pitched, trilled “bzeee” and a sighing whistle. Here is a link to the sounds of a Cedar Waxwing.

Interesting Facts About Cedar Waxwings:

  • Cedar Waxwings get part of their name because the bright red on the wing feathers is actually waxy red secretions.

  • Cedar Waxwings may eat berries that have fermented on the vine and show an inebriated behavior.

  • It takes 5 to 6 days and more than 2,500 individual trips back and forth to the nest before it is completed by the female Cedar Waxwing.

  • The oldest recorded Cedar Waxwing was 7 years old when recaptured and re-released.

 

For more information on the Cedar Waxwing and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!