Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Native Species Profile - Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwings in a buckthorn tree
 Many birds that are found in Mid-Michigan can be very difficult to identify for the average person.  They might only pass through the area for a limited time, so they are unfamiliar.  They may have plumage that varies during different parts of the year.  There many be a difference between males and females, or young birds and adults.  They may just fall into that category of "little brown birds".  Fortunately, some birds are easy to identify.  One of those species is the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum).

The Cedar Waxwing is a medium sized brown and gray songbird.  It is about 7 inches long and has a wingspan of 11-12 inches.   It has some very distinctive features that help to identify it.  These features can all be seen in the photo above.
  • A long feathered crest
  • A white-edged black mask around the eyes.
  • Red waxy tips on its secondary flight feathers (Thus the name "waxwing")
  • A light yellow belly
  • White feathers on the underside of its tail
  • A gray-black tail feathers with yellow tips

The Cedar Waxwing is quite approachable.  They often gather in large flocks.  During the winter they can often be found feeding on fruit and berries in trees and shrubs along with other species (including Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins).  Seeds in their droppings help spread many species of trees and shrubs.  During warmer months they often perch on tree branches and dart off to catch flying insects.

Two cedar waxwings feeding on buckthorn berries and wild grapes
 Cedar Waxwings have a larger relative  that sometimes appears in large number in Mid-Michigan, the Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus).  They usually appear in the area when food is in short supply in their normal range.  The Bohemian Waxwing is identifiable by its larger size, overall grayer color, and the cinnamon red color feathers on the underside of its tail.  This winter has brought large number of this species into Mid-Michigan.

A Bohemian Waxwing - note the cinnamon red colored feathers in the underside of the tail.

Part of a flock of Bohemian Waxwings

Basic Information

Cedar Waxwing
Bombycilla cedrorum

Habitat:  forests and open areas

Size:  7 inches long with a 11-12.5 inch wingspan

Diet:  berries, fruit, tree sap, insects

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