Ap­pre­ci­at­ing the beauty of the cedar waxwing

Santa Fe New Mexican - - WEATHER - By Anne Sch­mauss

We’ve had many re­ports lately of gor­geous cedar waxwings. One ex­cited birder (my sis­ter) even told me about spot­ting a flock of them in the small trees lin­ing the side­walks of the Round­house. An ex­tra bonus dur­ing this leg­isla­tive ses­sion! If you see a cedar waxwing, more likely a flock this time of year, try to get a closeup look. They are real stun­ners.

The Cor­nell Lab of Or­nithol­ogy de­scribes the cedar waxwing as a “medium-sized, sleek bird with a large head, short neck, and short, wide bill. Waxwings have a crest that of­ten lies flat and droops over the back of the head. The wings are broad and pointed, like a star­ling’s. The tail is fairly short and square-tipped. Cedar waxwings are pale brown on the head and chest fad­ing to soft gray on the wings. The belly is pale yel­low, and the tail is gray with a bright yel­low tip. The face has a nar­row black mask neatly out­lined in white. The red waxy tips to the wing feath­ers are not al­ways easy to see.”

Look for these birds feast­ing from berry-pro­duc­ing veg­e­ta­tion like pyra­can­tha, rus­sian olive, hawthorne, moun­tain ash, ju­niper and the like. They are also fairly com­mon vis­i­tors at bird­baths this time of year. Of­ten, these no­mads won’t hang around in a yard long. They come for the fruit and wa­ter be­fore mov­ing on.

We are in the win­ter range of cedar waxwings and we hear the most re­ports of them from Jan­uary into early April, just be­fore they head north to nest. You’ll find them nest­ing in the north­ern half of the U.S. into Canada. Some nest as far south as Colorado. The cedar waxwing is one of the last species of North Amer­i­can birds to nest each year, de­lay­ing its breed­ing un­til an abundance of in­sects and sum­mer-ripened fruits are avail­able to feed their young.

Cedar waxwings are one of the only species in North Amer­ica that spe­cial­izes in eat­ing fruit. They can sur­vive for months by eat­ing fruit alone. Come sum­mer they sup­ple­ment their diet with in­sects. The color of the yel­low tips on their tail feath­ers can be im­pacted by the type of berries they eat, some­times turn­ing more orange if they eat enough red berries while their tail feath­ers are de­vel­op­ing.

Although one of the most strik­ing birds, cedar waxwings are of­ten heard be­fore they are seen. Lis­ten for their high, thin, whis­tles when out in your back­yard or walk­ing about. Anne Sch­mauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Un­lim­ited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird sto­ries. She is the au­thor of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to At­tract­ing Birds to Your Back­yard and Bird­houses of the World.


A cedar waxwing sits on a branch in the Santa Fe area.

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