The cedar waxwing is rarely seen because it lives high in the treetops. Even then it is usually only seen in the winter time when the foliage is off the branches. However, you may be lucky, as we were, to see them in June when a pair visited our holly tree in June for the berries. Even though this bird lives all over Oregon, I have only seen a few times in my life. They live in the open forest, forest edge, city parks, and in neighborhoods near ornamental plantings.
The cedar waxwing is a smooth-looking bird with a crest at the back. It has a black mask over its eyes. The bird is grayish brown with a yellow belly and red, waxy-looking tips on its wings. The tips of its tail feathers are bright yellow. No one seems to know why it has the waxy-looking tips on its wings, but it is a secretion. The female and the male look the same, and the juvenile is just grey all over with a streaked chest and none of the adult markings. It develops its mask after the first year, and the red wing tips appear after the second year.
The female and the male build a cup nest made of grass, twigs, and moss placed in the fork or branch of a tree. They raise one brood a year, but occasionally they raise two broods. There are four to six pale blue eggs with brown markings. The female incubates the eggs from 10-12 days, and the young fledge in 10-12 days with both parents feeding them. They are late nesters in the season, probably to take advantage of the availability of berries which are available in the summer.
The cedar waxwing feeds on cedar cones, fruit, flower petals, insects, and drinks sap. It is a partial migrator, moving from area to area looking for berries. Before berries are available, the birds feed on insects. These birds are usually in large flocks. They migrate to southern Canada and the northern US by mid-May, and then go back south to the West Indies and Panama in the fall. If you want to attract this bird to your yard, plant trees and shrubs that produce berries or small fruits. They like raisins and birdbaths.
It is said, but not confirmed that cedar waxwings will eat fermented fruit, get drunk and fly erratically. It is also said they will sit several together and pass a berry beak to beak down the line like a little bucket brigade until one of them eats the berry. Nesting pairs are said to sit together, pass flower petals back and forth, share food and rub bills.
You may hear the high-pitched whistling sounds (described as 'sreeee' made while they are in flight) that the cedar waxwing constantly makes.
Cedar waxwings have earned their name by eating small cedar cones and from the waxy tips on their wings. It is said that the reddish color of the waxy tips are caused by pigments from the berries they eat.
There is a cousin, the Bohemian waxwing that has white tips on its wings and rust under the tail. It is about 8 inches long, while the cedar waxwing is about 7 inches long.
Martha Van Natta
Additional information: see Wikpedia - Cedar Waxwing