Sunday, February 24, 2008

Migration Underway: Cedar Waxwing

In our last post, a migrating flock of robin visited the Colvin Run Habitat and brought with them the bird perched on the water pump tub (middle of the photo, back to the camera). Who is this? This perviously never observed in the Habitat bird is a cedar waxwing.
This regal looking bird is the size of robin, but is usually one of the last birds migrating north as they eat berries and fruit, which certainly are not available in Viriginia in late February or even early March. My guess is that this particular waxwing was wintering with other birds including these robins. When the robins came north, this waxwing just came along.
As you can see from this third photo, the coloring and the crown of the waxwing, especially when perched in the trees, is very similar to the female cardinal. Once you notice the yellow-tiped tail and the orange (nearly red)-tiped wings, you'll never confuse the waxwing with the femal cardinal.

Cedar waxwings with orange instead of yellow tail tips began appearing in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada beginning in the 1960s. The orange color is the result of a red pigment picked up from the berries of an introduced species of honeysuckle. If a waxwing eats the berries while it is growing a tail feather, the tip of the feather will be orange.
The cedar waxwing is one of the few temperate dwelling birds that specializes in eating fruit. It can survive on fruit alone for several months. Unlike many birds that regurgitate seeds from fruit they eat, the cedar waxwing defecates fruit seeds. The cedar waxwing is vulnerable to alcohol intoxication and death after eating fermented fruit. Cornell


  1. Anonymous9:30 AM

    I am sitting at my kitchen table in Chantilly and have been watching robins fly around and perch on my deck all morning. And with them, two cedar waxwings! I've never seen them before, googled robing migration in Virginia and found your blog. Great site and great pics!

  2. Chantilly.
    Robins and two cedar waxwings.
    Wow! What a small world.

    Special thanks for posting the cedar waxwings with the robins. My readings have the waxwings migrating much later. So, your observation is interesting and much appreciated.

  3. on 17th jan. 2009 we had around 20 cedar waxwings visit our bird bath for a drink of water then they came back about 2 hours later first time we have seen them at our home in branford florida. hope they keep coming back.

  4. Jerry - Thanks for your info.
    Since my original post, I have learned that Cedar Waxwings not so much migrate as wander around for the best source of food.
    I am guessing that around Branford you have a reasonable source of berries. By the time February gets here, on average they will have wandered 1200 miles from their nesting locations.
    Please take care of them down in Florida as I look forward to the Cedars passing through Virginia on their way back further north.

  5. Anonymous1:08 PM

    My wife and I built a home in the mountains of Northwest GA a year ago. We are busily planting flowers and hanging bird feeders.

    On Sunday, May 10, 2009, we noticed 15 or so of these birds. They stayed in the tops of the trees and never came down to the bird bath or feeders. Very pretty birds. Wished they would have hung around for a while.

    This is the third group of birds we have seen this year. First was robins, then bluebirds. Love studying the migration habits and appreciate others reports of sightings.

  6. Anonymous4:10 PM

    Every year between the end of January and April we will have a day or two of many Cedar Waxwings and Robins feeding on our 50 foot Hooly tree berries. There will be 50 or more of each and the tree is stripped of berries in a day. Then the Waxwings are gone for another year. We live just north of Annapolis, Maryland on one of the rivers.

  7. Anonymous5:27 PM

    Feb. 9, 2010

    This morning hundreds of robins were in my yard eating berries in Dunn Loring, Va. With them were 4 cedar waxwings. They hung around all day! I can only hope this means Spring is coming soon!

  8. Anonymous7:26 PM

    I live just North of Nashville TN. The waxwings usually come visit for 1 maybe 2 days. They eat all the berries from my crabapple tree and then are gone until next Spring. One of the most beautiful birds to watch. Today was the big day (March 30) They seemed to be late this year and covered with more winter down than usual. My 4 year old son and I eagerly anticipate their arrival each year. Will this winter ever end? Until next year, safe flying.

  9. Anonymous2:57 PM

    I used to see these in Texas, both around Lubbock where I am originally from and San Antonio where I live today. It seemed that then we saw them both in the spring and fall. I presently live in a rather secluded area within San Antonio where there is a lot of bird activity. However I have not noticed any Cedar Waxwings in some years and am a bit concerned that there population may be dropping.