Bird Lore: Cedar Waxwing

Photos by LeRoy Van Hee
Photos by LeRoy Van Hee


The Cedar Waxwing is an extremely social bird, found in small flocks to huge gatherings. The collective nouns for a flock of this species are “ear-full” and “museum.” While such specialized collective nouns enrich language, flock is probably the most common collective noun for most bird species.

Nomadic is an apt description for the Cedar Waxwing. Its movement has been described as mercurial. Perhaps that is because it seeks sugar fruits and goes where they are abundant. When fruit is depleted, this species moves on. In winter it can often be seen with American Robin or Yellow-rumped Warbler, species that also seek out overwintering berries.

This species ranges over a wide variety of habitats: open woodlands, forest edges, orchards, fields with small trees and shrubs, golf courses, woodlots, city parks, riparian corridors. It can be found almost anywhere except in the forest interior. As its name suggests, the Cedar Waxwing is quite attracted to cedar trees.

The Cedar Waxwing can be found in many parts of Washington throughout the year but this bird is more often seen in Edmonds from May to the autumn months. Since it is wide-ranging in its search for berries, it can show up almost anywhere in Edmonds where there are berry bushes or trees. It is a late breeder in that it does not start nest building in some areas until late June.

Look for a warm brown to yellowish bird, slightly smaller than a Robin, with a crested head, red tips on some of its wing feathers, and with a yellow-tipped tail. If you see it foraging in a tree, you will note the black mask on its face.

The Cedar Waxwing, although quite vocal, does not have a song. It communicates with very high-pitched sighs, which you can hear at this link:

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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