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Waxwing Birds Mean Waning Winter

Jan 05, 2011

I looked up from my computer keyboard this morning and received my annual notice that winter is on its way out. The notice always takes the same form--a flock of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) busily devouring berries from the trees outside my window.

These nomadic birds are among the hardiest of the feathered tribe, traveling south each winter only as far as necessary to find food and keep a positive balance in their caloric bank accounts. Apparently, Jefferson City is at the far end of this particular flock’s southward hegira. They always turn up in January, when the sun is low in the sky, lending extra drama to their handsome plumage.

You would think that changing my calendar on Jan. 1 would be reminder enough that the days are growing longer. But nothing brings home the reality that winter is losing its grip like seeing these cheery birds and knowing they soon will begin the journey back to their breeding grounds in the northern United States and southern Canada.

Cedar waxwings’ common name comes from their fondness for the powder-blue berries of the eastern red cedar. However, they are equally fond of berries from other trees and bushes. They often travel in flocks numbering in the hundreds, and I have seen them strip every berry from the cedar and hackberry trees around my home in a single day.

What most endears cedar waxwings to me is their habit of communal and cooperative eating. Instead of fighting for access to berry-laden branches, half a dozen waxwings perch side by side, daintily passing berries from beak to beak as the bird nearest the tip of the branch plucks them. It’s enough to make you reconsider standard notions about which species are most evolved.

Jim Low

cedar_waxwing022.jpg

Photo of a cedar waxwing foraging for food.
Cedar Waxwing
A cedar waxwing spends evenings foraging for food during a snowstorm in Jefferson City, Mo.

Comments

I hate to say I told you so...... but I told you so! I know no one likes a smart#*&$

Nice looking bird. Looks cocky if you as me, i am sure it would be very arrogant.lol

A beautiful bird indeed. After seeing this post I actually looked up the Cedar Waxwing on google. I enjoy bird watching but I admit that unlike some of the others here I know of none of their names. I simply do it out of enjoyment.

Jim, I enjoy your enthusiasim about the winter being almost done, but I fell for your "summers almost done" blog comment. I bet we are halfway done. I hope your right and I'm wrong. However I have to keep my sanity, so I have convinced myself winter is half over. Winter bird watching is a great way to beat the cabin fever. I never noticed how the cedar waxwings shared in their berry grubbing until I read your post. I had always thought that the cedar waxwings were female cardinals.

One of my favorites! When I happen to run into a group of cedar waxwings I almost alway find them around water. Last week I saw a small group while squirl hunting at Phenix Access, near Clear Creek.

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