At this time of year, one of the most common birds in the field at my house is the Cedar Waxwing (Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren). Although considered a songbird, they are one of the few birds that do not have a recognizable “song”. Even so, I often hear them before I see them because of a high, wheezy whistle from the flock.
Waxwings are slightly smaller than a robin. Their body, head and crest is a soft, velvety brown. Their tail and wings are gray to black. They wear a black mask over their eyes. The tips of their tail feathers are yellow. If you look close, you can often see a bright yellow to red dew-drop of wax that accumulates at the end of their secondary wing feathers. The color depends on what they eat. Cedar Waxwings never fail to bring a smile to my face. They remind me of little clowns moving around in little groups from the pines to the high grass in my field.
Cedar Waxwings are nomadic and considered to be the most frugivorous bird in North America. Frugivorous means they eat predominantly fruit. They are generally found in small flocks. This is because they move around looking for trees, shrubs and plants with ripe fruit. They concentrate in these areas until they’ve eaten all that is available. Fruits they eat include the low-bush blueberries in my field. They also eat wild cherries, crabapples, wild cranberries, serviceberry and cedar berries (where it gets its name) and many others. Waxwings are considered to be critical in helping “spread” seeds of many of our wild, fruiting plants. Of course, you know what “spread” means. Let’s just say, don’t park your car near a cherry tree if you have Cedar Waxwings around.
As the weather turns cold, they move a little further south, but many stay in southern Maine all year. Here they may rely on non-native, ornamental plants we seem to prefer in our yards. As a result, Cedar Waxwings aide in the spread of problem plants like Russian Olive, Japanese Honeysuckle and Oriental Bittersweet. But don’t blame the waxwings. They can’t distinguish nuisance plants versus good plants. The burden is on us to manage these problem plants. One easy step - use native plants in our yards. If not, who knows what Cedar Waxwings will take a liking to and then “spread” on your car and the surrounding fields and woods.
James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to email@example.com.