Nature Notes

Cedar Waxwing

By Corrie Folsom-O'Keefe, Bird Conservation Programs Manager, Audubon Connecticut

March 22, 2018 — On a busy day, it can be hard to fit in time out of doors. At least once a week, I opt for a quick walk around my neighborhood. Rather than lose time traveling to another destination, I load the car for the day ahead then set off on foot, meandering along sidewalks, past driveways and homes. Initially, these walks were more about getting exercise than birding. But 82 eBird checklists later, I'm at 86 species. If I include yard birds, the list grows to 107. It has been really enjoyable seeing which birds pass through the neighborhood at different times of the year. I've also come to realize that even the smallest patches of trees and shrubs can provide habitat for birds, especially during migration.

And so I thought I would choose a species from these neighborhood jaunts for my first Bird Finder article—the nomadic Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum).

About a week ago, as I set out from the house, I could hear the "zee, zee, zee" of a small flock in the red maple in my backyard. Cedar Waxwing are not a regular in the neighborhood—I've only recorded them on five of those 82 checklists. I think one of the things that makes Cedar Waxwing exciting is that due to its nomadic nature you never quite know when you'll come across these crested beauties.

Where to Find them: In late winter and early spring, look for Cedar Waxwings feasting on the blue berries of the eastern red cedar. Other trees to scan include dogwoods, winterberry, and serviceberry. If you want to see Cedar Waxwings in your own yard, consider planting one of these native trees or shrubs!

Because they’re so nomadic, they’re likely to turn up almost anywhere. To increase your chances of finding one, learn their distinctive call.

Cedar Waxwings nest in a variety of habitats, from woodland edges to stream sides to overgrown fields to suburban yards. The most common feature of their habitat is fruiting trees and shrubs. While the Cedar Waxwing will dine on insects in summer, they are primarily fruit eaters. Here is an interesting fact: because Cedar Waxwings begin feeding fruit to their young just a few days after hatching, their nests are less susceptible to parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds than those of other songbirds.

How to Identify them: One of only five bird species in Connecticut with a crest and the only one with a black mask, Cedar Waxwings are fairly easy to identify. But take a few minutes to admire these sleek songbirds. Based on the number of waxy tipped secondary flight feathers, the amount of black on the chin, and the width of the yellow band at the tip of the tail, you can actually guess at the age of these birds. The younger females may not have any waxy tipped feathers, have limited black on the chin, and just a thin band of yellow across the tail (0-4.5 mm if you want to be precise).

In contrast, the older males may have up to nine waxy tips, have a blacker chin, and a yellow band 5-9mm in width. The older females and younger males are between these two extremes and overlap.

Conservation Status: Cedar Waxwings are common across the United States, Canada, and Northern Mexico and can be found year-round in Connecticut. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 52 million and the North American Breeding Bird Survey indicates the population is stable and increasing in some areas.

Learn more about the Cedar Waxwing

This article was first published in the Bird Finder by The Connecticut Audubon Society, an Audubon Connecticut partner in conservation and the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds.

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