Species: Cedar waxwing
Scientific name: Bombycilla cedrorum
Claim to fame: Besides its prominent crest and well-defined black mask, the cedar waxwing is known in the birding world for its heavy dependence on fruit. This bird’s appetite for fruit is so voracious that individuals sometimes become intoxicated from eating too much fermented fruit. Cedar waxwings are not a common nester in this area. (They usually nest in the northern U.S. and southern Canada.) The best time to see them in this area is from late April to the middle of May.
Species status: Cedar waxwing numbers appear to be on the increase in some parts of North America and stable in other areas.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the cedar waxwing was written in 1808 by the French naturalist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot. Despite being a pioneer in New World ornithology, Vieillot was over-shadowed by later and better-known ornithologists like John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson and, as a result, has been virtually forgotten. Vieillott fled France during the French Revolution and Europe’s loss was the Western Hemisphere’s gain. Vieillot was one of the first ornithologists to study live birds (his predecessors and many of his successors – including Audubon – frequently shot birds of all types so they could study them in detail). Viellot was also one of the first naturalists to study seasonal changes in bird plumage. Vieillot wrote the scientific descriptions of 32 genera and 26 species of North American birds and an even greater number of South American birds. Despite these significant accomplishments, Vieillot died in poverty and almost complete obscurity in 1831.
Family matters: Cedar waxwings belong to the bird family Bombycillidae, a small group of species commonly known as the waxwings. This family consists of three species worldwide, two of which can be found in North America.
Length: approximately seven inches
Diet: Cedar waxwings will eat insects, tree sap and flowers; but as mentioned above, the primary component of their diet is fruit. Many aspects of their seasonal life cycle are based on their dependence on fruit.
Weight: information unavailable
Distinguishing characteristics: Cedar waxwings have brownish upper bodies, a yellowish wash on their underbodies, a black mask that runs from the bill to behind the eye and a distinct crest on their heads. The bird gets the name “waxwing” from the hard, wax-like tips on its secondary feathers. The species name comes from the Latin “cedrorum,” which means “of the cedars,” which is a type of tree this bird commonly utilizes.
Life span: Data for this specific species is unavailable but three to five years is a good estimate.
Habitat: When not breeding and nesting, this bird can be found in a variety of habitats, including open woodlands, clearings, orchards and parks. Cedar waxwings seem to have a preference for cedar, ash and juniper trees. And, of course, throughout its varying habitat, this bird is associated with trees and/or shrubs that have berries or fruit.
Life cycle: Because of their reliance on ripening fruit, cedar waxwings are one the latest birds to nest in North America. The breeding season begins in late May and runs to late August. The female lays two to six eggs in a cup-shaped nest and incubates them for approximately 12 days. The young remain in the nest for approximately 16 days and are cared for by both adults.