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Cedar Waxwing
cedar waxwing
Cedar waxwing, photographed at Canyon Lake Park, Rapid City, South Dakota, in June 2017.
ceder waxwing
 

To our eyes, the cedar waxwing has to rate among the coolest looking birds on the planet. But here in South Florida, you're not likely to find one lonesome cedar waxwing sitting on a limb. Rather, you'll see them by the dozens, hundreds, possibly even by the thousands.

Cedar waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum, are winter visitors to South Florida. But instead of traveling singly or in a loose group, they make the migration in huge flocks, and those flocks remain together once they reach the Sunshine State. They're here in large numbers, but because they don't disperse like most migrators do, it's pretty much all or nothing. You see a zillion of 'em maurading for berries or you don't any at all. We did see the zillion, picture below.

They are small to medium-sized birds, about six or seven inches in length, with a wing span that can touch a foot. They are pale brown from the head into the chest, melding into pale yellow underneath and gray above. They have a sharp black facemask, outlined in a bit of white, bold red highlights in the wings, the result of waxy secretions, and bright yellow tips in on the tail feathers. Ceder waxwings also have a distinctive crest on their heads, similar to cardinals or blue jays but they're not likely to be confused with either bird. One odd fact: According to Cornell, that red in the wings can be orange in some birds, depending on their diet.

Waxwings are a mix of migrators and stay-at-homes. They're found year round in New England, the MidAtlantic States, through parts of the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. North of that belt, through the provinces of Canada, they're summer visitors. They will migrate in winter throughout southern parts of the United States, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and just across the Isthmus of Panama into South America.

 
 
ceder waxwing
 

They are fruit lovers, one of the few North American birds that can survive on fruit alone. They can become intoxicated from eating too many overripe berries. Fruit is such an important part of their diet that they will nest later than other birds to ensure a plentiful supply of their favorites to feed their young. But they do eat bugs in summer as well. Cedar waxwings will feast in farmers' fields. One Florida blueberry farmer was frustrated enough with the damage they did to her crops that she brought in an African Barbary falcon to deter the raiders.

Waxwings' love of fruit is also responsible for a lot of their behavior — their their nomadic ways and how social they are. It's even part of their courting ritual, with males offering berries (and other things) to females that have caught their eyes. If the female is interested, the item is passed back and forth several times until she finally consumes it. The pair will remain monogamous through breeding season.

Females take the lead in selecting a site for the nest and its eventual construction. According to Cornell, it can take a female cedar waxwing as long as 5 to 6 days and 2,500 trips or more to gather the material needed to build it. Clutches are usually three to five eggs, which take less than two weeks to hatch. Females probably handle all incubation duties. Both parents feed their offspring, which fledge after two to three weeks. The parents wil have a second clutch.

Cedar waxwings are members of Bombycillidae; their numbers are in good shape from a conservation perspective.

Photographs by David Sedore

 
 
cedar waxwings
A flock of cedar waxings photographed in February 2014 at the Delray Beach Municipal Building.
 
More Links for Cedar Waxwing Cornell Lab of Ornithology National Audubon Society  
 
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.