Our spring newsmagazine featured Cliff’s top ten hidden gems of birding. Here is the sixth of a blog series on these birds, by guest blogger Ed Pope.
The cedar waxwing is a songbird roughly the size of a song sparrow. The plumage over most of its body is fairly drab, consisting of brown or gray feathers. But this bird is a stunner, with bright red feathers on its wingtips, yellow on its tail and a black mask around its eyes.
“Waxwing” refers to the red wingtips, which are the color of red sealing wax. The “cedar” part of its name comes from its fondness for seed cones of the red cedar tree.
Cedar waxwings are found all across the continental United States. Its breeding range includes the northern half of the United States and southern Canada. During the winter, cedar waxwings can be found in almost all of the continental United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and into South America.
The preferred habitat of the cedar waxwing is open forests or the edges of more densely wooded areas. Its habitat overlaps with the cowbird, which will sometimes lay an egg in its nest. However, cowbird chicks are usually unable to survive on the waxwing diet of mostly berries. The bulk of a cedar waxwing’s diet is fruit from plant species like winterberry, serviceberry, cedar, juniper and hawthorn. It also eats insects, especially during the breeding season.
Cedar waxwings usually search for food in flocks. Some have become drunk from eating berries that have begun fermenting.
Cedar waxwings typically build nests in trees between six and twenty feet above the ground. A typical brood consists of three to five eggs. Incubation takes around 13 days, and the chicks typically exit the nest after about 16 days. Parents normally raise two broods during the breeding season.
Below is a video featuring the cedar waxwing. Burnett Woods is a good place to find these exotic-looking birds.