These svelte and lovely, quiet birds can be seen during most of the year in Newton. During the winter they associate in loose flocks and dine on ripe fruits, including those on juniper (red cedar) trees and crabapples. During the rest of the year they will eat insects as well as berries and fruit.
The picture above shows a first year bird, which has no brilliant red edges to the secondary feathers on its wing. It does have the bright yellow ends to its tail feathers. These two flashes of brilliant color, together with the bird’s habit of eating cedar berries, give these birds their common name of cedar waxwing. The striking black mask around the eyes, together with the smooth beige, gray and yellowish plumage on the body and wings, creates a very appealing look. The birds’ silky smoothness gives them their Latin name, Bombycilla cedrorum, in which “cilla” translates as “tail,” “cedrorum” as the “cedar tree” and “bombycinus” as “silken.” The birds have a feathered crest on their heads, like Cardinals and Tufted Titmice. The crest might give them a wacky appearance, except for the black mask. The mask begins over the beak, runs through the eye, and curves up into the crest. It has a white border and gives a mysterious nuance to the bird’s appearance.
The picture below shows the red tips of the secondary wing feathers on a full adult bird. The longest wing feathers are called “primary” feathers, and the next group of shorter wing feathers are called the “secondaries.” The birds in this picture are dropping down onto the snow for a drink. You rarely see only one Cedar Waxwing. Notice the interest in one of the birds for the bird below it. These birds are quite social and you will occasionally see them passing fruit from one to the next down a line on a branch, until one eats the fruit.
Photos and text by Pete Gilmore