Cedar Waxwings

The Front Range of Colorado has been enjoying an invasion of Waxwings. There are two types of Waxwing in North America — Cedar and Bohemian — and both have been spotted in large numbers throughout the Denver area this winter.

I subscribe to several bird-watch lists, and I read with a little frustration about all the Waxwings all around us. My husband is thoroughly sick of hearing me state “I’m going to go find some!”, mostly because I never bothered to do so.

Then yesterday I happened to look out my bedroom window on the second floor. This is what I saw:

Three Cedar Waxwings and an American Robin (left) sitting in my Callery Pear tree, eating last year’s fruit.

According to Birds of the World, Waxwings are the only birds outside of the tropics to survive exclusively on fruit. You’d think that would limit them to wet areas of the plains and eastern woodlands, but they live all over the continent with the exception of the far north. In fact, they are year-round residents of the Colorado mountains.

Callery Pears are supposed to be ornamental, and only produce a few very small pears. But they were enough to attract these Waxwings. You can see a shriveled pear just in front of this bird.

I wasn’t able to get any photos of the hard red beads of keratin (which forms our hair and fingernails) that form on the ends of some of their wing feathers that give Waxwings their name. Scientists have no idea why the beads form, but they are a stunning ornament for an already stunning bird.

Right now, these gorgeous birds are eating frozen fruit still on the tree. But Waxwings are so dependent on fruit that in the early spring they eat berries even when fruit is a little spoiled, because there is nothing else for them. The fermented berries can have enough alcohol in it to get the poor birds drunk.

They are welcome to all the fruit I have in my yard, for as long as they want it.

Published by Amy Law

Amy Law is a science geek. She feels about science the way some people feel about music, or art, or sports – a total and complete emotional connection. She thinks in science. For Amy, there’s nothing better than helping people see the beauty of science as she does. She loves to untangle a complicated subject into its parts, explaining it so that anybody can understand what’s happening. Let her show you her world...

3 thoughts on “Cedar Waxwings

  1. Hooray! I’m so glad you got to experience the waxwings, Amy! I ran past a tree filled with noisy birds last week but they were too far off for me to identify and my song skills are poor, but I was thinking maybe waxwings. Or starlings. Or ??? Whatever they were, they made me smile.


      1. I have used Merlin but don’t run with a phone and my brain is very, very bad at memorizing bird songs. I heard the waxwings when I saw that flock several weeks ago but promptly forgot. 😦 From your description, I think the flock I saw in the tree last week was possibly/probably starlings.


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