Cedar Waxwings are one of my favorite birds to spot in the wild. While they are considered common in New Jersey, their movements are considered “erratic.” This is due to their nomadic search for a specific type of food, berries. Because of this wandering existence, it is difficult to predict the Cedar Waxwings’ movements or to find them in the same place more than once. They do summer in Northern New Jersey and can be found in the southern half of the state year-round. They are present in much of the Northern United States year-round.
According to my field guides, late autumn into the winter months is the best time to spot them. The lack of leaves makes a visual easier to accomplish. In the winter they will flock, sometimes as many as 100 together, making it even easier to spot them. That being said, they like to perch on the tops of tall trees, making a close-up view tricky.
While some might claim that the Cedar Waxwings lack conventional beauty, I wouldn’t call them ugly. Distinguished or noble might be the best characteristics to use when describing them. They measure in at about 7 ½ inches, as compared to their larger relation the Bohemian Waxwing who measures 8 ¼ inches. Both the females and males look alike. They are mostly brown-gray in color, with hints of yellow, flashes of white and a black mask on their faces. They have a crest on their head, giving them a silhouette not dissimilar to a Northern Cardinal. But it is the tips of their tails and wings that make them really special. The tips of their tails are a shiny yellow, and the tips of their wings have a similarly shiny red. Earlier observers believed that the tips on their wings looked as if they had been dipped in wax, leading to their common name Waxwing. These waxy wing tips only appear after a few years and some believe they may be used to signal the bird’s age to its fellows.
Cedar Waxwings live in wooded spaces. They usually nest a bit later than most birds, in July and August (at least in New Jersey). They usually have only one brood a year, which consists of 4-6 eggs that are pale blue with markings. The female incubates the eggs, but both the male and female feed their young together.
One key to understanding the Cedar Waxwing is grasping just how dedicated they are to the pursuit of berries. While they do eat insects, and will eat primarily bugs during the spring, Waxwings are really all about the fruit and sweet berries. They begin feeding their young berries after only a few days. One of the ways they display to their mates is by feeding each other berries. Their unswayed berry fixation has given them a reputation for gluttony among bird watchers.