Cedar Waxwings have always been around me, but I genuinely noticed these birds only a decade ago.
It’s probably because the Cedar Waxwing is the most silent songbird we have.
These beautiful neutral-tinted songbirds don’t have a recognizable song. Instead, they use short, simple call notes that sound like a triple bzeee and a sighing whistle for vocalizing.
My Introduction to Cedar Waxwings
I formally met the Cedar Waxwing on a warm summer day and not in the happiest of circumstances.
My friend Dan was mowing his lawn and found 3 baby birds on the ground under a tall pine tree, so he calls me to share in his discovery.
Two of the birds are moving around and need our help, and sadly one died on impact from the long fall. The birds are naked, featherless, and totally helpless.
Caring for Hatchlings
Back then, we weren’t into birds like we are now, so we didn’t know what kind of bird it was or how to help it.
We look up the tree hoping to find a panicked parent so we can place the birds back into their nest, but we can’t see the nest or any birds around us.
At this age, all birds look alike to us. Since we didn’t know how to care for this tiny, helpless creature, we contacted our local licensed wildlife rehabilitator named Annie Mardiney of Wild Mountain Birds.
We’re panicking over these hatchlings in need of care.
As our luck would have it, like other wildlife rehabilitators, Annie is busy working her day job and says she’ll evaluate the birds when she gets home. Until then, she asks us to leave them on her porch.
Leave them on the porch? But they’re babies! These birds need help now, and it’s not like there’s an ER for wild birds, so we temper our expectations.
Thankful for Wildlife Rehabilitators
We carefully scoop up the birds and place them in a cardboard box. The entire time we’re driving to Annie’s house, we’re checking on these tiny babies making sure they’re okay before we say our goodbyes and leave them on the porch.
Parting from the hatchlings is such sweet sorrow.
It’s game on for us now that we’ve gazed into the bird’s adorable faces, not yet knowing what kind of birds they are.
We’re invested in these birds and making sure they survive.
Time couldn’t tick by fast enough for us as we waited for a call from Annie. Finally, the phone rings, and Annie lets us know she is hand-feeding the birds, and the prognosis looks good for their survival.
Oh, and they’re Cedar Waxwings.
I wasn’t familiar with Cedar Waxwings, so I quickly Googled them and learned they’re a silky, shiny black-masked bird with beautiful brown and gray coloring with a delicious hint of lemony accents.
Learning About Cedar Waxwings
These fabulous songbirds have bright yellow tips contrasting against their dark tails that look like wax on their darks tails and brilliant-red wax droplets on their secondary wings.
Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) have a subdued crest on the top of their heads like some of my other favorite birds: the Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Belted Kingfisher, and Blue Jays.
How could I miss seeing this bird so much of my life?
Knowing the two Cedar waxwings are on the path to recovery, we relax. Crisis averted.
Or was it?
Dan is in his yard the next day and finds another Cedar Waxwing hatchling in the same spot under the pine tree.
It’s almost as if someone was placing the birds there. This bird is moving around, so Dan calls me again, shocked by this discovery.
We wonder how this is happening? There were no heavy winds or rainstorms to knock the birds out of their nests.
This time we know what to do, and we bring this third hatchling to Annie for care.
And again, the bird has an excellent prognosis for care. Another crisis averted.
Or was it?
Cedar Waxwing Nest in Distress
The next day when Dan is in his yard, he looks under the pine tree now out of habit, not thinking a fourth bird is on the ground.
And to his astonishment, a Cedar Waxwing hatchling is on the ground.
He couldn’t believe his eyes, and I thought he was joking when he shares the news with me. Again we bring the Cedar Waxwing to Annie’s house so it can be with its hatchlings.
Annie was shocked, we delivered hatchlings on three consecutive days, and when day four rolls around, she calls us, asking in a joking way if we have a bird for her.
Luckily we didn’t find another hatchling on the ground. Cedar Waxwings lay 4-5 eggs in a clutch, so we were safe.
We see several squirrels climbing in the pine tree and attribute the displaced hatchlings to overzealous squirrels climbing the tree and knocking the hatchlings out of their nest.
Return and Release
A month later, Annie shows up at Dan’s house with a pet carrier and releases the Cedar Waxwing fledglings near the pine tree where their lives began.
The birds flew off quickly, taking to the treetops and wires surrounding the house. And two fledglings perched on the cable wire closest to the house and kept looking back at us, as if thanking us for saving them.
We were thrilled knowing we helped these birds survive, and it was incredibly rewarding seeing them fly off and begin their lives in the wild.
It’s been 10 years since that day, and we’ve never seen Cedar Waxwings in his yard again.
But since we never saw the birds building their nest that year, that doesn’t mean they’re not there.
Finding Cedar Waxwings
We find these birds flitting about over lakes, swamps, and rivers during summer pursuing flying insects.
I’m captivated by their dazzling aeronautics.
Cedar Waxwings sit on a perch and out of nowhere, plucking insects mid-air, hovering briefly before returning to the same spot.
As I watch this process over and over, the best way to describe it is the bird does a figure eight.
But fall is a different story.
We see Cedar Waxwings gathering by the hundreds to eat berries off of wild plants in the fall.
Love for Berries
Cedar Waxwings are synonymous with their love for berries.
They’ll pluck berries off trees and bushes while perching, hanging upside down, or hovering mid-air.
Unlike most fruit-eating birds that regurgitate seeds, Cedar Waxwings digest the whole fruit and poop out the seeds.
Living in Danbury, Connecticut, I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings pick a neighbor’s fruit-bearing tree clean in minutes.
Even the American Robins stopping by for a bite are shocked at their voracious appetite for berries.
The day I was drinking my colonoscopy prep, and frightened about the procedure I’d undergo the next day, I look up and see a flock of Cedar Waxwings out my living room window.
They’re perching in the trees and looking at me.
We stare back and forth at each other, and one by one, they leave and reappear on a fruit-bearing tree.
Something was soothing about seeing them enjoying berries while I’m drinking the most horrible-tasting concoction on the planet.
Almost as if they are saying, “Salud!”
It reminds me of the hatchlings we found years before on the ground, and how afraid I was they wouldn’t make it, but with the proper care, they did. And the birds flew off beginning lives in the wild.
It made me less frightened after seeing them.
Then I chugged the rest of my prep and toasted them, wishing the horrific concoction I was drinking tasted half as good as what they’re eating.
Getting Drunk on Berries
Occasionally these birds consume too much overripe fruit, becoming intoxicated on berries.
There are stories every year about Cedar Waxwings getting drunk on fermented berries, so I used this as the subject of one of my standup comedy bits.
I perform standup as a hobby and enjoy including birds in my act.
If I mention a bird and it motivates someone to go home and look that bird up, I can inspire others to enjoy birds, and that’s a win-win.
I perform a bit about Domingo, the drunk Cedar Waxwing, and his adventures.
Of course, it’s a bit of a stretch expecting the audience to know what a Cedar Waxwing is and that they get drunk on berries, but giving human qualities to a bird is a fabulous way to help people connect with nature.
And make them laugh.
The Cedar Waxwing is my “spark bird” providing the encouragement to look up more outdoors, take an interest in our feather friends, and educate others.
This bird has a more significant impact on my life than I ever imagined.
Even though the intoBirds’ logo is a Blue Jay, it was essential to have a bird with a crest as our logo paying homage to those Cedar Waxwing hatchlings we discovered a decade ago.
And birds with crests, especially Cedar Waxwings, will always have a special place in my heart.
Tell us about your spark bird in the comments below. We’d love to hear about the bird that ignited your passion for birdwatching.