Cedar waxwings were an early Christmas gift


The unusually warm December weather has given us a treat this year.

We’ve actually seen the local cedar waxwings.

The birds are year-round denizens of our neighborhood, but their wheezy whistling is usually the only sign of their presence.

Cedar waxwings are one of the prettiest birds in our yard.

They have gray backs, buff chests and heads and neat black super-hero style masks edged in white.  

The birds travel in flocks, and we identified them long before we ever spotted them  by their calls.

Most of the time we hear them when they strip the red berries on the yews.

That’s probably why I find so many seedling yews around the yard — the waxwings swallow most berries whole and later pass the seeds.

Until last week, we’ve only been able to watch the waxwings twice.

Once the flock spent a happy half-hour or so taking turns bathing in our little stream.

Once the last bird left the water, we didn’t see them again.

Several years later, waxwings appeared outside the kitchen and spent two days gobbling the berries on our hollies.

One of them actually used the nearby heated bird bath, but when the berries disappeared so did the birds.

We’d hear them calling, but that was it until their recent appearance in the pear trees.

We’ve planted everything recommended to attract them, so you’d think we’d see them more often.

But the robins dominate during the summer fruiting season.

They drive off anything that even looks at the ripe serviceberry fruit, gobble the dogwood berries and seem to be the first to the arrowwood viburnums when the drupes there ripen.

Those are the primary shrubs listed as cedar waxwing favorites.

We also planted a hawthorn tree, a pathetic little specimen that has turned into a large, beautiful tree.

But although cedar waxwings in particular are supposed to love hawthorn fruit, I’ve never seen them there.

The cedar waxwings last week gathered in the ornamental pears, stuffing themselves on the miniature fruits, and we enjoyed the show.

Some of the fruit can only be reached from the air, so they flutter near the laden branches, tugging to loosen their prizes.

This doesn’t always go well, however, so a lot of the bounty is lost. Many years the drops can be recovered from the pond ice, but this year open water means hits go straight to the bottom.

Most of the ground drops are lost, too.

Our dogs, never ones to pass up food, are quite happy to hoover up any pears the birds are nice enough to provide.

Cedar waxwing diets consiste of primarily fruit, even in the cold months, and since they’re year-round residents, they need to forage all winter.

They’ll eat juniper and cedar berries, colorful winterberries and crabapples.

Mountain ashes in our neighborhood used to provide huge resources, but those trees have been killed by ash borers.

Gardeners who love wildlife should consider helping these beautiful birds by planting some fruitful natives.

It’s a wonderful treat to catch sight of these shy residents.

It was an early Christmas gift for us and greatly appreciated.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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