Cedar Waxwing

The Encyclopedia Brown book series were some of my favorite books to read when I was a kid. The series was about a young boy whose nickname was Encyclopedia Brown. He was a junior detective. He would solve cases for the neighborhood kids for 25 cents. One his cases involved a flock of wild birds. The wild birds were a flock of the lovely Cedar Waxwings.

After reading that story- I had always wanted to see a Cedar Waxwing. (I don’t remember the specifics regarding why the Cedar Waxwing was important to the case in the book- but I do remember that it involved the birds getting drunk from eating too many fermented berries- which is something that they really do from time to time- some Cedar Waxwings die from eating too many fermented berries.)

I finally saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings (their scientific name is Bombycilla cedrorum ) when I was in my twenties. They are easy to identify by their call (a high pitched, but soft tsee tsee kind of whistle) as well as their habit of traveling in flocks. Unfortunately, many times they are feeding high in the trees. And because the Cedar Waxwing is a very small bird- they aren’t much bigger than a sparrow- to really admire them you will need to have some binoculars handy.

The Cedar Waxwing is indeed a handsome bird- in my opinion, it is one of the prettiest birds native to North America. The tip of their tail looks as if it has been dipped in yellow paint, and there is just a splash of brilliant red on the outside tips of their wing feathers. The rest of the Cedar Waxwing is a study of flowing grays, tans, and soft yellows. Each color of its coat seems to taper and fade perfectly into the other.

Other than to witness its remarkable beauty in person for myself, I had another reason for wanting to see the Cedar Waxwing. The Cedar Waxwing is a highly social bird. Not only do they travel in flocks, but they are also known to sit on branches, several Waxwings to a row. If there are berries at the end of the branch, then the Cedar Waxwing nearest to the branch will pluck a berry and then pass it to the next Waxwing in the row. That Cedar Waxwing will then pass the berry to the Waxwing next in the row, which will then pass it on down the row until the Cedar Waxwing at the end of the row receives the berry. I think that that is truly amazing for a wild bird to have that instinct and behavior.

I was thrilled today (November 11, 2008) when we had a flock of Cedar Waxwings stop by our yard. My wife had never seen one. She too was surprised at their beautiful colors. I have been looking for this common bird of uncommon beauty since I was a kid. I am glad that I get to see it every now and then.