Invasion of the Cedar Waxwings!

Swift movement outside the window caught my eye, as a bird landed in a nearby tree branch. Was that a Cedar Waxwing?

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing

Another bird came in for a landing.

Two Cedar Waxwings
Two Cedar Waxwings

Then another.

Three Cedar Waxwings!
Three Cedar Waxwings!

They kept coming, until there was a flock of Cedar Waxwings perched in and around our Winterberry Hollies (Ilex verticillata).

A flock of Cedar Waxwings arrives!
A flock of Cedar Waxwings arrives!

They were here, of course, for the fruit. Cedar Waxwings are especially dependent on fruit in their diet, so much so that ‘Cedar’ in their common name is a nod to Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), whose fruit-like cones are an important source of winter food for this bird. The other part of their common name, ‘Waxwing’, refers to the waxy looking red tips on their secondary wing feathers.

Cedar Waxwing. Notice the red, waxy-looking tips of the secondary wing feathers.
Cedar Waxwing. Notice the red, waxy-looking tips of the secondary wing feathers.

Like most other birds, Cedar Waxwings also eat insects, especially when they are breeding and raising young. I did see one bird take a break from the Winterberry fruit to browse the branches of a nearby Witch-hazel (Hammamelis virginiana) for some insect protein. But fruit was the main attraction for this flock.

Cedar Waxwing reaching for Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata fruit
Cedar Waxwing reaching for Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) fruit

While I watched, the birds put on an impressive acrobatic display in pursuit of the delectable fruit.

Cedar Waxwing reaching for Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata fruit
Cedar Waxwing reaching for Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) fruit
Cedar Waxwing showing acrobatic talent while reaching for Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata fruit
Cedar Waxwing showing flexibility while reaching for Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) fruit

It’s not by accident that such an abundance of fruit is available for these and other birds. The groundwork is laid in late spring, typically June where I am in central New Jersey, when these shrubs produce a wealth of small flowers that are a major attraction for pollinators, including many different species of bees, wasps and flies.     

Perplexing Bumble Bee (Bombus perplexis), visiting a female Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) flower. Her pollination efforts make the fruit that results from this visit possible.
Perplexing Bumble Bee (Bombus perplexis), visiting a female Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) flower. These pollination efforts make the fruit that results from this visit possible.

While they stayed with us, the Cedar Waxwings also ate the remaining Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) drupes, as well as some crab apples. The birds moved on after three days, when the trees and shrubs were stripped of their bounty. It was a mesmerizing spectacle while it lasted.  

Cedar Waxwings are typically found in woodland habitats, near water or woods edges, but they are sometimes found in open fields, too. It all depends on food availability. They are sociable birds, and often nest in proximity to other members of their species, with several nests possible in a single ‘neighborhood’.  When they aren’t breeding, they travel in flocks, moving from place to place to find the fruit they need. A few days before the invasion of this flock, I saw one or two Cedar Waxwings in the trees outside.  Because of their gregarious nature, it’s unusual to see a lone bird of this species. Now I can’t help wondering if these early birds were scouts, looking for the next food stop for the group.

To attract Cedar Waxwings to your own yard, be sure to provide the fruit they love.  In addition to Winterberry Holly and Eastern Red Cedar, American Holly (Ilex opaca), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), native viburnums such as Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium), Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), hawthorns, apples and grapes are all very appealing to this sleek and lovely bird. To see them in summer, offer them blueberries, serviceberries, cherries and blackberries, among other fruit.

Cedar Waxwing eating Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) fruit
Cedar Waxwing eating Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) fruit

Related Posts

Fall Feeding Frenzy

Where Do Winterberries Come From?

Blackhaw Viburnum – A Subtle Beauty

What Do Juniper Hairstreaks and Cedar Waxwings Have in Common?

Resources

All About Birds, the Cornell Lab

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. 2001.

26 thoughts on “Invasion of the Cedar Waxwings!

  1. I get them in the early summer when the elderberries are fruiting. I did plant 2 Eastern Red Cedars in my backyard and they are loaded with drupes, hoping to see them this winter.

  2. Thank you, Mary Anne. You really captured the naturalist’s dilemma. One must stop immediately and take advantage of a sighting because once the food is gone, it’s over. Thanks, too, for the great planting ideas. Your photos are my favorite holiday gift. Thanks for all you have taught me.

  3. Your photos are so beautiful. You must have been on cloud nine taking these photos! I’ve never had a cedar waxwing siting. I’m hopeful now since I live in PA across the river from the central Jersey area. Will keep an eye out for them.

  4. Really great photos of one of my favorite birds – you captured their essence beautifully too! If the deer ever stop pruning my still-small winterberries (we had exactly one berry this year), I would love to witness a similar spectacle.

  5. Your pictures are amazing! A beautiful bird, used to get them every year in my Bradford Pear, until I decided it had to go! I’ve always wondered if they found another good food source.

  6. There’s something about these photos that are award-worthy: the red berries against the neutral background and the beautiful waxwing coloration. Simply exquisite. They took my breath away!

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