When the berries on the holly tree in my yard are ripe, I start looking for the Cedar Waxwings.
Some years the Cedar Waxwings don’t come to town. The timing of ripe berries in the trees doesn’t coordinate with the migration of the Cedar Waxwings.
Sometimes the Cedar Waxwings do arrive, but you can miss them. Typically they don’t feed at feeders, and they don’t feed on the ground. They primarily feed in fruit trees and can blend in with the tree foliage.
They travel and feed as a flock — or colony — and can swoop through, group feeding on a berry-filled tree and then be on their way in the time that you’re at work or at the store.
Their high-pitched whistle can alert you to their presence. Then scan the trees and the sky.
You may see a group of Cedar Waxwings circulating around a tree — with some landing and some taking off. Or you may see a few birds leaving a tree, followed by a few more leaving the tree.
You may see a murmuration of waxwings — a cloud of the birds, swirling together.
Sometimes in their eating swirl, they fly into nearby windows. That especially is true if the berries are fermented and the birds become tipsy.
(In most cases the birds that hit the windows and land on the ground are just dazed and can recover in a few minutes or a few hours. The Cornell Lab offers tips for helping injured birds and for safeguarding birds from windows.)
With binoculars or camera (or if you can get close enough), you can admire the Cedar Waxwing’s distinctive coloring — with a black mask, crest, yellowish chest feathers, and colorful tail tip. (The tail tip typically is yellow, but some waxwings have orange tail tips caused by eating berries from a species of honeysuckle.)
Sticker book and bird report
My interest in Cedar Waxwings began when I was in second grade and my parents gave me a book of bird stickers. I had never seen a Cedar Waxwing in person but was taken with the Cedar Waxwing’s distinctive coloring.
About the same time, my second grade class teacher, Audrey Pippin, introduced a bird study project, with each of us writing a report about a bird species. My report was on Cedar Waxwings, and I included in the report the Cedar Waxwing sticker from my sticker book.
A few weeks after the class completed the bird project, a flock of Cedar Waxwings arrived in the backyard. My parents and I rushed into the yard to watch the birds feasting on the berries in the hedges lining one side of the yard. That was a magical experience.
Over the years, every time I’ve been fortunate to see Cedar Waxwings, I remember the thrill of the first time I saw them when I was in second grade.