The Berry-Searching Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing in Madrone Tree, Calif.

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.

 

Cedar Waxwing flock over San Francisco Bay

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.

Cedar Waxwing flock

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.

 

Cedar Waxwing juvenile

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

Cedar Waxwing-rangemap.png

Cedar Waxwing range map. Courtesy Wikipedia. Yellow=breeding; Green=Year-round; Blue=Wintering

 

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78 thoughts on “The Berry-Searching Cedar Waxwing

    • I’m happy you enjoyed them, David. So much bird activity in spring, what a joy! And thank you for the huge hugs…sending hugs your way as well, my friend.

  1. I love the black mask of the Cedar Waxwing…I’ll be on the lookout on my walk today for these beautiful birds. Thank you Jet and Athena for sharing your insights and photography.

    • I like that black mask, too, Sharon. If you are walking where there are berries, you just may see some. I hope you do! Many thanks for your warm words, always a delight.

  2. A wonderful love letter to a favourite bird! I intend to keep my eyes peeled for a chance to spot a bouquet of these chic birds – great description.
    Really enjoyed this – thanks, Jet!

    • Now that’s it’s turning into spring and the snows have melted up there, you have a good chance of seeing this beauty, pc. I much appreciate your visits, pc — wishing you and Mrs. pc a really wonderful weekend.

  3. Great photos! It’s very special to see a cedar waxwing around here.
    They are not very common in our area. But years ago I was standing in my garden and a baby waxwing, just learning to fly, stumbled into my leg and then fell to the ground. I picked him up and he sat on my finger. He pooped on my toe and flew away. I think he’d been eating thimbleberries. You can imagine how I knew.

  4. These are such beautiful birds! I don’t see them here, but saw a flock for the first time on my birding trip to Cape Coral. Great shots!

    • Yes, we are so lucky to have them swooping around during all daylight hours. I noticed most of the cotoneaster berries are gone now (there were millions!), but there are still more, so I’m glad about that. Thanks, as always, for your lovely visit, Amy.

  5. As you describe the friend nodding to all the brown birds in the sky I am thinking we fit in the same category. however we have seen these birds and I can honestly say I would have a good chance of recognizing them. The photo with the cedar wax wing with the berry in beak is superb!

    • hey! Great news, Sue. I’m delighted to hear you have seen the cedar waxwings, know about them, and would recognize them if they showed up. And I sure hope they do. I find great pleasure in pointing out this beautiful bird, so even if you hadn’t, I would still have fun. I like that photo with the berry, too. We were lucky that day, they stayed in our tree (3 yrs. ago) long enough for Athena to run and get her camera and fire off some photos.

  6. I love them too – but thought they just came through in winter. Our persimmons tree died and they used to feast on the fruit in December and January ( also attracted woodpeckers). I miss the birds as much as the tree.

    • Yes, depending on where you live, the cedar waxwings might just come through for a short visit. I like knowing that they feasted on your persimmons tree, Cinda, thanks so much for your visit and comment.

  7. Lovely birds! First time I saw a pair of them was 2 years ago, under a Cedar tree. I was really impressed, they have such a lovely and neat plumage. I didn’t know they fly in such a big flock

    • Oh how fortunate to see cedar waxwings underneath a cedar tree. I agree, they are lovely birds, and I am delighted you have had an encounter with them, Christie. Thank you very much.

    • Yes, it is true. If the berries are over ripe, it will intoxicate the bird. I’ve seen this too, with robins, and it’s pretty funny to watch, of course always hoping they don’t hurt themselves. Cheers, Jan, and many thanks.

  8. ‘Zeee-zeee’ is what I hear. I love it when they return to our area in late summer to perch on branches and swoop out to catch insects above the river. They seem nomadic the rest of the year, staying a few days to eat every berry before moving on.
    We used to have an old apple tree and flocks would feed on the frozen fruit in winter and get tipsy. Our cat nearly caught one, pulling its tail feathers out so it couldn’t fly. I kept it for a month until it grew new feathers & could fly again. It gorged on all types of fruit, but seemed to love grapes, cherries and peaches best, which I would cut up for him. I called him Cedric. For years after, when I saw a flock, I’d wonder if one was Cedric. 🙂

    • “Zee Zee” is a good description of the cedar waxwing sound, Eliza, thank you. You and I are lucky to hear it, many people don’t, because of the high-pitch range. Great story about Cedric, I’m glad he survived the attack, and that you were able to rehabilitate him. Thanks so much, Eliza, for this story, interesting what he ate.

  9. A beautiful portrayal of an interesting little songbird. I have watched small flocks of these berry-eaters for many years, especially along the trout streams where they’re often the first birds to respond to a hatch of insects from the water. Fly-fishers keep an eye out for them because they could signal the beginning of surface-feeding by trout.

    • Oh how wonderful to hear the cedar waxwings play a role in fly-fishing, Walt. I so enjoyed hearing how they go for the insects; and knowing their flight pattern so well, I can imagine it must be quite a swoop. Warm thanks and happy fishing to you–

  10. You may not believe this but… I’ve never personally seen a Cedar Waxwing! I know they are somewhere in other parts of Georgia but never where I live. By looking at photographs I find it to be a beautiful, neat appearance and has sophisticated natural features. Maybe they do not find the berries they like to eat in my area. Who knows! Very good post my friend. 🙂

    • Very interesting, HJ, to read the cedar waxwings do not live in your home community. They do have a way of not being in some areas. Until I moved here near the bay temporarily, I had always read they flew in large flocks, but at our house in the next county, they only appeared in small flocks. So they definitely have their varying ways. Great to hear this, and I am sure when you do see one, you will have a very happy day. My warm thanks for your wonderful visit.

  11. Great write up and pictures. I’ve seen several cedar wax wings but only 1 flock and that is when we lived in Chicago. I was on an early morning bike ride and there they were

    • Great to hear about the flock you saw while riding your bike, Bill. Interesting that it was when you lived near a big city that you saw the flock, whereas other sightings were just individuals. They have their quirky ways. Many thanks, dear Bill.

  12. Those wing and tail tips are amazing – they really do look like they have been dipped gently in pots of red and yellow paint. I get frustrated by my loss of hearing for the higher pitches of sound, particularly as I can see the sounds are there in the spectral display when editing my recordings. I just have to accept it I guess. Love the group shot in the cotoneaster.

    • The cedar waxwings have such interesting markings, I’m glad you enjoyed them, Alastair. It is frustrating to miss the high-pitched sounds, and I am sorry this has happened, it is a difficult hit to endure. As for the group shot, yes, I like that one too. The waxwings blend into the foliage in a nice way. I hope you have a pleasant weekend, my friend–

  13. According to your map, these birds range includes Colorado, but I don’t remember ever seeing a bird that looks like this. I’ll need to be on the lookout. Thanks for sharing about this fascinating creature.

    • I love hearing this, Firelands, for once you’re on the lookout, they almost always appear. But if it turns out that you don’t see the Cedar Waxwing, even after looking, consult the Audubon website in your nearest city, on their local bird walk findings, and see if they record spotting it, and where. Then you can try walking around where they see the bird. Have fun, and thanks so much.

  14. Waxwings are handsome birds. We’ll generally have a small flock of transients come by for a couple days in late summer when the berries are ripe, but that’s about it.

    • I am glad to hear you have the waxwings visit your area, Belinda. How fortunate for you to host this dapper bird. Many thanks for your visit and kind words today.

  15. Yay! We’re in the year round zone. I think the first time I saw one was here on the Coast. About a year ago, we were driving down to a beach when we saw a bunch of waxwings in some of the bushes alongside the road. We were lucky no one was behind us and we had a chance to photograph them sitting comfortably in the car. I can’t get over how silky they look. They are truly charming birds. Great captures by Athena.

    • How delightful to have been there at that moment, Gunta, with no car behind you, and you had your own vehicle as a blind for photographing. They must’ve been so busy tugging away on the berries that they didn’t even notice they had admirers. Great hearing about your cedar waxwing experiences, Gunta, thanks so much.

  16. Fantastic photos and I share your enthusiasm for the cedar waxwing! I have seen these beautiful birds in our yard and at the park, but unfortunately I have not seen a cedar waxwing this year. I can imagine the thrill of watching the flock fly by all day and absolutely loved your description of “a bouquet of these chic birds dancing the skies.”

    • I imagine they will be coming by soon, ACI, now that spring is arriving in your state. Yes, it has been a thrill to see this huge flock of the cedar waxwings this spring. I never knew they formed such large flocks until I lived here in this condo. Thank you for the kind words on the final sentence. I didn’t want to use the word “flock” for the concluding paragraph, because it didn’t portray the grace and beauty I wanted to elicit. So I took poetic license on a word normally associated with flowers, and that worked better…I am delighted you enjoyed this sentence, and of course, the post. My warm thanks for your ever-attentive visit.

    • Yes, that’s what I read too, Andrea. They do not breed in the UK, but they visit in winter and eat berries. I hope this winter you get to see one in person, they are so lovely. But if not, you’ve had a good look here. Thanks so much, Andrea — always a pleasure.

  17. When we lived in Virginia, our backyard had three blueberry bushes which never had ripened berries. What an odd plant! Based on your description of the Cedar Waxwing, I’m sure the waxwing wasn’t the culprit as I never saw a flock of birds in my yard, except for some jays and cardinals. Thanks for the wonderful education. Athena’s pictures of the waxwing are exceptional.

    • I think you’re right, Keng, the blueberry-eater in your yard wasn’t the waxwing, as that particular berry is not part of their diet. But I’m glad you enjoyed the waxwing info and photos here, what a fun bird to share. Thanks so much for your visit.

  18. They’re one of my favorite birds that I rarely see. They migrate through, but often spend only a day or two in the neighborhood –until the food’s gone, and they move one. I did have the pleasure once to watch a flock strip the little fruits from some palm trees at my apartment level. They were effective, and lovely as your post.

    • Yes, it is memorable to watch the waxwing flock descend on a tree and make fast work of the fruit on it. They certainly are, as you say shoreacres, effective. Enjoyed hearing about your times with the waxwings, thank you so much.

  19. It is always a treat when I see Cedar Waxwings. The contrast of their sharp coloring is quite stunning. Awesome photos, how glorious to have a huge flock of 500 go by your balcony several times a day, Jet!

    • Oh yes, Donna, it really was glorious. And I agree, always a treat to see cedar waxwings. Thank you for stopping by today and sharing in the cedar waxwing joy.

  20. This is one of my favorites, also, but I only remember seeing one once – at Cape May. Most of my sightings are at our feeder, so now I know why I don’t see them there. Don’t their velvety feathers just make you want to cuddle them?

    • I chuckled at the thought of cuddling the cedar waxwing, thanks Nan, for the smile. I hope you will someday see more, especially since they’re one of your favorites.

  21. Our first sighting of cedar waxwings we’ll not soon forget. A whole flock landed on a tree outside our apartment window at eye level. It was truly a glorious sight! The was in Arlington, VA 15 years ago. We’ve spotted them many times since and agree they are one of the most beautiful birds!

    • I love hearing about your first sighting of the cedar waxwings, simpletravelourway, and yes, I can imagine you will never forget it. Sounds like a lovely first sighting and a wonderful memory to carry with you, too. This is one of the many delightful things about watching the birds. Thank you so much.

  22. Some sharp clear photos serve to enhance the article that in whole gives the reader wonderful information on the cedar waxwings, just one more of the many birds I am not familiar with. thanks Jet!

    • Yes, it was a great treat to see the huge flocks of cedar waxwings, RH. I know you have a plethora of gorgeous tropical birds in Abaco, but I hope your wish comes true one day, and you get to see a cedar waxwing. Many thanks–

  23. According to the map, I should be able to find them here in Southern Ontario. I’m going to have to start paying more attention to the small brown birds I see flying around. This one should be relatively easy to spot with his little Zorro mask 🙂
    These are great photos. The black mask makes him look rather mischievous.

    • Yes, keep your eyes out for the cedar waxwings, Joanne. The black mask is a good marking, as you say (which I also love); and often even if you have a silhouette with bad lighting, the crest is often up which does not occur on other brown birds. Happy days to you!

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