Here’s a songbird we have in abundance in the U.S., and they are personally one of my favorite American birds. Always in search of berries, the cedar waxwing is often found flying in flocks.
They live and breed in North America, are also found in Central America and parts of South America. See map below.
One of North America’s most stunning native birds, they have a sleek black eye mask, bright yellow tail tip, tidy crest, and a lemony belly. To add to their elegance, the feathers are silky-looking in gentle shades of tan and gray. They are named for the red tips that adults have on some feathers–look like they’re dipped in red wax.
A medium-sized bird, with a diet of berries and insects, they can be found in gardens, orchards, suburbs, cities, towns, and rural countrysides…wherever there are berries.
Many people who are relatively familiar with common songbirds, have never heard of the cedar waxwing. That is probably because this bird does not visit feeders, and they are often quiet.
I have been enamored of cedar waxwings for over two decades, and I still stop in my tracks when I hear them overhead, look for the flock. Parking lots, town centers, berry-lined highways.
I like to point this bird out to friends who are not into birds. In response, the friend will look up, unimpressed, and say, “Hmm,” because all they’re seeing is another brown bird flying by.
Next I show my friend a close-up photo of the bird, and then they are wowed, and want to see the bird again. Often they say, “What’s it called again?” in earnest interest.
A gregarious bird, cedar waxwings are rarely seen alone. Sometimes you will see them foraging in small flocks, often in large flocks. Congregating in the sky much like starlings or blackbirds, small flocks join up with other small flocks until there are hundreds of them flying in one graceful, swerving cloud.
Lately there’s been a flock of 500 that zooms by our balcony dozens of times a day. They like the cotoneaster shrubs in the landscaping.
More info at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Other than a high-pitched thin whistle call that is out of hearing range for many people, they are quite silent as the flock synchronistically descends into a berry tree, shaking the branches, and plucking the fruit.
What a thrill to look up and see a bouquet of these chic birds dancing the skies.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander