I have received several reports in the last few weeks of flocks of cedar waxwings stopping in for short yard visits. This is typical behavior for waxwings, flighty and nomadic as they cover lots of area looking for their favorite foods, berries. They never seem to stay in one place very long. They can occur in large flocks, so they can deplete a food source quickly, hence the need for constant movement.
If you see a tightly bunched flock of birds flying overhead, you may be seeing waxwings. If you hear constant high-pitched seeee calls, then you can be sure of it.
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Don’t expect them to check out your feeders. Cedar waxwings won’t take conventional feeder fare such as seed and suet, and it’s not possible to supply the number of berries required to keep them around. You can attract them, though, by planting fruit-bearing native trees such as dogwood, red cedar, hawthorn and native hollies.
To be successful in bringing them in for a close look, however, keep a fresh supply of water available. Water, especially in really cold weather, is like a cedar waxwing magnet. They literally swarm around the source, usually in the company of American robins, their most common traveling partners.
Cedar waxwings are truly beautiful birds. A feather is never out of place. The smooth tan plumage ground color melts into a yellow wash on the belly. The tail is tipped in yellow, and there are peculiar waxy red tips to secondary wing feathers, giving the species its name. The head is prominently crested, and a black mask dominates the face.
A few pairs nest in Mecklenburg County, but the cedar waxwing is primarily a winter bird for us, lingering into early May. If a flock drops in for short visit, enjoy the visitors while you can. They won’t stay long.
We are into the coldest weather of the season so far, so I expect birds to be moving to the feeders at least for a few days until it warms up again. Long-range forecasts call for average to below average temperatures, so keep an eye out for the more unusual visitors. The colder weather is arriving just in time for the Christmas Count season, hopefully bringing some northern birds with it. As always, let me know what you are seeing in your birding patch.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.