Cedar Waxwing

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Cedar Waxwing
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

“I was going to go out and gather some dogwood berries off my tree but a flock of those Yankee Robins came in and stripped it bare.” “What kind of bird?” I replied. It didn’t take long to figure out he was talking about Cedar Waxwings.

About the size of a robin, waxwings are most often misidentified as female cardinals. They are primarily tan and grey in color with a black mask and a tail that looks like someone dipped it in yellow paint. While most of its appearance differs greatly from our cardinal, it is their crest that most people key in on.

Waxwings are a unique group of birds. They are, in a nutshell, seed distribution “machines.” Their digestive tracts are very inefficient thus requiring them to eat large amounts of their favorite food – fruit. These berries (and their internal seeds) pass quickly through waxwings and end up on the ground quite a distance from their origin. Just what the plant needs to ensure survival and distribution.

Their gluttonous eating habits sometimes get them in trouble. They have been known to eat so much at one time, that they become too heavy to fly. They have to wait for the ineffec- tive digestive tract to do its job and lighten their load before take off. Couple that fact with their occasional encounter with fer- mented berries, and you can see why waxwings have gained the title“drunk” of the bird world.

How can you attract Cedar Waxwings to your back yard? In a word - landscaping. Planting native trees and shrubs that produce bountiful amounts of berries can be irresistible to waxwings. If you can live with vines like wild grape, woodbine and poison ivy, let them bare fruit each fall. While landscaping may not be an option for everyone, unfrozen water generally is. A bird bath with a de-icer is often your best bet for attract- ing “Yankee Robins".

By Mark McKellar

FALL 2004