By Kelly Adams
About 52 bird species visit Oklahoma birdfeeders during the winter and few are as handsome as the cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). Debonair in appearance, the cedar waxwing’s shiny assembly of brown, gray, and bright yellow feathers are accented by the red colored wax droplets on the wing feathers. Its sleek black mask, subtle crest, and silky body give it distinct look among other birds.
Cedar Waxwings are most abundant in in the northeastern United States, the Great Lakes region, and southern Ontario. Their opportunistic feeding habits drive them in an unpredictable migrating pattern as they are constantly exploiting and searching for food supply. Cedar waxwings are gluttons for fruit and are well known for their voracious appetite. They are one of the few North American birds that specialize in eating fruit and can easily survive on fruit alone for several months. However their gluttony comes with a price. Occasionally they become intoxicated or even die when they eat too many overripe berries. As the winter approaches and berry supplies are low, large flocks begin to migrate on average 1200 miles south as far as Panama.
Cedar waxwings are very social birds. They are almost always found in flocks ranging in size from 30 to 120 birds. In Oklahoma, they can be found state wide from late October to early May but numbers vary drastically from year to year as they search for food. Of course cedar waxwings are especially attracted to blue fruits of cedar trees for which they are named but they are found in all types of forest and woodland habitats with fruit bearing trees and shrubs. During the winter, they are common in urban and residential neighborhoods where they feed on berries of landscape plantings. Cedar waxwings have a high water need and are usually found close to streams and ponds.
During the summer months, cedar waxwings breed in southern Canada and the northern half of the United States. Breeding occurs between early spring and late summer. During courtship, males and females hop back and forth passing items like fruit, an insect, or a flower petal. After this goes on a few times the female eats the gift. The monogamous pair will look for a nest site together but it is the female who ultimately decides where to lay her eggs. On average, females will lay 4 or 5 eggs. During incubation, the male guards the nest and releases a warning call if predators are near. After incubating for about 12 days, the eggs hatch. The chicks are blind with no down feathers and incapable of departing from the nest. They remain in the nest for about 15 days before taking short flights around the nest. The parents continue to feed the chicks for another week before they leave the nest and form flocks with other young cedar waxwings from nearby nests.
Like many other bird species, cedar waxwings play an important role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. As fruit and insect eaters, they help disperse seeds and help control insect populations. Watching these handsome birds at backyard feeders is an enjoyable pastime for many people. Birding is easy to learn, fairly inexpensive, and fun for all ages. Cedar waxwings are common visitors to backyard feeders across the state. They are attracted to yards that have fruit-bearing trees and shrubs and a water source. Although they prefer fruit bearing trees and shrubs, they will visit feeders with fruits like dried berries, raisins, currants, and apple slices.
Every winter the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation encourages people to participate in the annual Winter Bird Feeder Survey. The survey lets bird enthusiasts contribute to bird conservation while enjoying their favorite pastime. The survey takes place every January and for more information visit wildlifedepartment.com. This winter take some time out of your day to enjoy Oklahoma’s winter visitors, including the cedar waxwing.