Cedar Waxwings

cedar waxwing © Joseph Cavanaugh
cedar waxwing © Joseph Cavanaugh

Although bird feeders hold no attraction for them, cedar waxwings may come to visit your winter yard if you have any plants that bear fruits or berries. Many birds will eat fruit when it is available, but the so-called “cherry bird” is a fruit specialist, and a berry-laden bush can be an irresistible lure to a flock of waxwings in the depths of winter.


Cedar waxwings have remarkably smooth and silky-looking brown plumage. Both sexes sport a small crest like a cardinal’s, as well as a black mask across the eyes. A waxwing’s lower wings, back, and tail are mostly a cold gray, but the bright yellow band at the end of the tail is an excellent field mark. The name “waxwing” comes from the waxy red tips that form on the birds’ secondary wing feathers.


In the warmer months, waxwings can be seen hawking for insects to feed their hungry babies, often foraging in forest clearings or over water. During the fall and winter, however, it’s all about fruit. Flocks of waxwings will fly together, perching on twigs and gobbling down the fruits of any plant they can find, including the fleshy cones of juniper and cedar. Their high, thin calls are easy to recognize once learned. Sometimes, waxwings can actually become drunk from eating fermented fruit!


Cedar waxwings can be seen year-round in Massachusetts, and these robust “frugivores” appear to be stable or increasing in all seasons. Learn more in the Breeding Bird Atlas 2.