The cedar waxwing: A gregarious eater

Once regarded by fruit nurserymen as a pest, cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are beloved for their striking plumage and endearing habit of passing fruit along a line of birds until one individual decides to end the game and eat it.

In late fall and early winter, flocks of hundreds are known to visit area trees ripe with fruit and strip it bare in moments. Because they are planted thickly in residential areas, crabapples are likely targets for cedar waxwing sightings in our area.

Cedar waxwings are so named for the drop of bright red "wax" on the wing. In areas where birds consume quantities of non-native honeysuckle fruit, the wax droplet is orange in color. Birds of both sexes have taupe-colored heads with a deep black mask across the eyes, a short brown crest, white to yellow bellies and slate-blue rumps. The tip of the tail is bright yellow.

The species' primary year-round range is in the northern half of the United States, from coast to coast but as far south as the Smoky Mountains. The birds spend the breeding season in Canada, but once cooler weather sets in, cedar waxwings migrate -- if necessary, in search of adequate food supplies -- as far south as Florida, Mexico and Central America.

Roughly 70 percent of the cedar waxwing's diet consists of fruit, when it is available. In the absence of fruit, birds consume flowers, sap and insects. In addition to crabapples, favorite forage species include Eastern red cedar, American holly, mountain ash, mulberry, black cherry, yew, hackberry and choke cherry.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 1/1/2012