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Cedar waxwings have been one of my favorite birds since childhood. I used to climb a tree near a swamp and sit quietly while small flocks of these birds would launch from nearby alders and swamp maples to capture the insects that flew above the water. They were so intent on pursuing the  smorgasbord of insects that abound in wetlands, that sometimes they would almost land on my head, veering away at the last minute. Like most birds that fly-catch they may seem unaware of your presence since all their focus is needed to catch zooming insects.

Waxwings have beautiful form and coloring. The body is a combination of a rich light brown and some gray with a lemon yellow underbelly. Some birds are accented by bright red wax- like tips on the wing feathers.Tails of adults are tipped with bright yellow, while fledglings may have an orange band. If they eat enough fruits from an introduced honeysuckle species, the tail tips of adults and juveniles may turn orange. Dapper with a crest like a cardinal and a black mask through the eyes, the waxwing is an striking bird. And their high pitched, thin whistles tell you when they are nearby or flying over.

waxwing showing wing tips 2-7-14 UConn campus photo Pamm Cooper

Some of the best places to find cedar waxwings are either around water- ponds, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes in the spring and summer where insects are abundant or around trees and shrubs that provide fruits and berries to eat in the fall and winter.

Cedar waxings get their common name from the cedar trees from which they obtain fruit and their red wing tip accents. They are mainly fruit eaters and ingest both the seeds and pulp, unlike many other birds that regurgitate the seeds. Even their young are fed a large amount of fruit and live to tell the tale. They do seem to switch to a more protein rich insect diet in summer, then return to fruits as they become more abundant in late summer and fall. They may eat sassafras, black gum and In winter, look for waxwings wherever there are winterberry, cedar, inkberry, crabapples and other fruits still remaining, especially after snowstorms. Sometimes waxwings and even robins can become intoxicated from eating berries or crabapples that have started to ferment.

cedar waxwings on crabapple 2-7-14 UConn outside Radclifef Hicks photo Pamm Cooper

Waxwings have an endearing habit of sharing food, sometimes even passing a berry down to the last bird in line. They are social, and seldom found alone. Sometimes their numbers can be so large that they can strip a tree of all its fruit in a matter of hours. They one thing I have noticed is that they take turns when in large groups. For example, one group will settle in to feed on crabapples, and another group will settle in to a treetop nearby. All of a sudden, the ones feeding will start whistling and fly off and the group that was patiently waiting without a peep will fly in to take their turn. This can go on all day, especially in the winter when food is scarce after a good snowstorm. Of course, they will still carry on this way even during the middle of snowstorm, making for a good photo opportunity as they are not particularly shy birds.

two waxwings sharing apple 2-7-14 photo by Pamm Cooper

Keep your eyes and ears open, and check out any trees or shrubs that still have fruit, and you may be rewarded with a great opportunity to observe these beautiful birds.

Pamm Cooper               All photos © 2014 Pamm Cooper