Cedar Waxwings are sleek, masked birds with unusual red, waxy deposits at the tips of their secondary feathers. They are cinnamon-colored, with grayish wings and tails and yellow terminal tail-bands. They have distinctive crested heads, black throats, and black masks lined with white. Their bellies have a yellowish tinge, and their undertail coverts are white. Juveniles are mottled gray-brown, and have black masks and yellow tail-bands. The red feather-tips increase in number and size as the bird ages.
Cedar Waxwings inhabit open, lowland woodlands with shrubs and small trees, especially when berry-producing shrubs are present. They are often found in streamside woods and avoid the forest interior. They are common in forest clearings, wetlands, edges, residential areas, orchards, and stands of Russian olive.
They are social birds that you're likely to see in flocks year-round. They sit in fruiting trees swallowing berries whole, or pluck them in mid-air with a brief fluttering hover. They also course over water for insects, flying like tubby, slightly clumsy swallows.
Waxwings are often heard before they're seen, so to learn their high-pitched call notes visit http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/sound.Look for them low in berry bushes, high in evergreens, or along rivers and over ponds. Check big flocks of small birds: waxwings are similar to starlings in size and shape, and often form big unruly flocks that grow, shrink, divide, and rejoin like starling flocks.
Cedar Waxwings love fruit. To attract waxwings to your yard, plant native trees and shrubs that bear small fruits, such as dogwood, serviceberry, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, and winterberry.
An interesting fact, the name "waxwing" comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of the secondaries of some birds. The exact function of these tips is not known, but they may help attract mates.
Cedar Waxwings with orange instead of yellow tail tips began appearing in the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada 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 enough of 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 North American birds that specializes in eating fruit. It can survive on fruit alone for several months. Brown-headed Cowbirds that are raised in Cedar Waxwing nests typically don't survive, in part because the cowbird chicks can't develop on such a high-fruit diet.
Many birds that eat a lot of fruit separate out the seeds and regurgitate them, but the Cedar Waxwing lets them pass right through. Scientists have used this trait to estimate how fast waxwings can digest fruits.
Because they eat so much fruit, Cedar Waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol.
Building a nest takes a female Cedar Waxwing 5 to 6 days and may require more than 2,500 individual trips to the nest. They occasionally save time by taking nest materials from other birds' nests, including nests of Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow-throated Vireos, orioles, robins, and Yellow Warblers.