If there was ever a bird that could exemplify the spirit of
merriment and sharing, I think it would be the cedar waxwing.
If there was ever a bird that could exemplify the spirit of merriment and sharing, I think it would be the cedar waxwing.

The beautiful birds are splendid socializers, with large flocks gathering among berry-bearing trees and happily trilling their choruses of tsee-tsees. They pass berries to others perching further up on the branch, so all get their share of delicious fruit. Mating birds perform little dances, hopping to and fro and passing a berry back and forth. It looks like a happy holiday celebration.

Last month, this young waxwing was found fluttering forlornly on the ground in Gilroy. It was weak and unable to fly. Since there were no apparent injuries, it’s very possible that the little bird had become incapacitated (i.e., “drunk” from over-imbibing on fermented pyracantha berries).

The bird was kept by the finders for more than a week, becoming frailer and still not able to fly, possibly due to inadequate feeding. Fortunately, it was brought to the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center just in time. With a proper diet of insects and assorted non-fermented berries, she gradually regained her health, and within a few weeks was transferred to an outdoor flight enclosure to prepare her for release.

The problem was that cedar waxwings are nomadic birds, gathering for several days to eat the berries on a tree, then suddenly moving on to another area. It was imperative that this bird join an existing flock before they flew off elsewhere. Since they are not a territorial species, a non-familial group would welcome her. To locate a new flock, WERC posted a notice on the South Valley Pets Blog asking for the public’s help. The very next day, a flock was reported in a suitable location. The cedar waxwing was released beneath a flowering pear tree, where she perched for a few minutes among its berries before joining several of her species as they flew off. There’s a possibility that they might even have been members her original flock. What a joyous occasion!

Seven inches long from the jaunty crest on their head to their yellow-tipped tail, cedar waxwings migrate from Canada and the northern United States to enjoy the warmer winter weather of the southern half of the United States and Central America. Only adult birds have the waxy red spot on the tip of the wing, for which the species is given its common name. The sleek birds (their genus is Bombiycilla, meaning “silky tail”) also sport a black mask and tawny tummy.

Would you enjoy having these elegant and gregarious birds in your garden next fall or winter? Plant trees and shrubs that bear juicy berries, such as pyracantha, coffee-berry, white alder, dogwood, cherry, mulberry, elderberry, chokeberry or blackberry. Be sure to supply a water source, too, since their high-sugar frugivorous diet makes the birds extra thirsty. The red berries of the toyon are especially popular with the cedar waxwings. Apropos of the festive season, the small tree is also known as Christmas berry. Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy is named after the native California plant. Early residents of the region used to gather boughs of its berries to merrily deck their halls during the holidays.

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