- Size: 7.25” long with 12” wingspan.
- Color: light brown body that fades to pale, creamy yellow belly and light gray wings. Head has light brown crest and striking black mask around the eyes, outlined with white. Tip of tail has band, usually in yellow but occasionally orange. Secondary flight feathers may have bright red, waxy tips.
- Habitat: Woodlands, grasslands, backyards.
- Where and when to observe: in the area year-round and can be seen at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Floyd Bennett Field, Queens Botanical Garden, and State Line Lookout along the Palisades Parkway.
What is it about Cedar Waxwings? That striking mask around the eyes and devil-may-care crest on the head? Or is it the plumage that starts in a drab taupe becoming almost lemony-yellow near the wings? And what about those remarkable red, waxy tips on the secondary flight feathers?
No doubt, the Cedar Waxing is an eye-catching bird. But what we find most interesting is that, though field guides list the species as quite common year-round, we typically see it on those occasions when we thought it’s been ages since our last sighting!
Look for Cedar Waxwings feeding on berry-producing plants like Maple Leaf Viburnum, Eastern Red Cedar, Flowering Dogwood, Pokeweed, Mountain Ash, Crab Apple, and Hawthorns. Unfortunately, Waxwings have also been known to eat overripe, fermenting fruit leading to intoxicated birds.
Though Cedar Waxwings may eat insects on occasion, scientists believe the heavy fruit diet, rich in carotenoid pigments, result in the red, waxy droplets on adult secondary flight feathers. Similarly, the tail’s yellow or sometimes orange band may be diet-related.
Breeding takes place in open woods, often near still waters, in June to early August as summer fruit ripens. Courting males offer a piece of fruit, insect or flower petal to the female who, after receiving the gift, passes it back to the male. Females build cup-shaped nests, often reusing materials from other nests, and lay 2-6 pale blue or blue gray eggs with occasional dark speckles. Naked, helpless chicks hatch after 11-13 days and rely on the female for warmth and food. Young birds fledge in 14-18 days at which time they are covered with drab, gray streaked feathers but already sport the black mask and yellow tail band.
Watch for this sociable species in flocks (except for breeding season) with their constant, high pitched calls, convening around berry-producing plants. They can be seen year-round in woodlands, farms, orchards and backyards. Good viewing spots include Floyd Bennett Field, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens Botanical Garden, and the State Line Lookout along the Palisades Parkway in New Jersey.
Thankfully, with an abundance of fruiting shrubs and bans on DDT, Cedar Waxwing populations are strong.
- All About Birds: Cedar Waxwing by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology accessed on 11/16/09 at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/id/ac.
- The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley, published 2000 by Chanticleer Press.
- The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior edited by Chris Elphick, John B. Dunning, Jr., and David Allen Sibley, published 2001 by Chanticleer Press.
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