Bird of the Week: Cedar Waxwing

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

Species: Cedar Waxwing or Bombycilla cedrorum

Family: Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

Star sign: Libra

Rating: 12/10

Ideal Date: Getting wine-drunk at three in the afternoon.

This week’s songbird is instantly recognizable by its sleek and striking appearance. With its soft brown and yellow ombre feathers, sharp crest, swooping black mask, and sealing-wax-red wing tips from which it gets its name, the Cedar Waxwing is the picture of poise and elegance. The internet holds many a beautiful picture of a Cedar Waxwing in a snowy forest, perched with a crimson berry held in its beak, perfectly poised as if aware of its own sophistication. Yet despite its slick, sophisticated style, this fetching friend has a reputation for being a party animal.

Amongst their fellow songbirds, Cedar Waxwings have unusual feeding habits; they primarily eat fruit, especially berries, and can even go without any other sources of food for months at a time. This uniquely homogeneous diet has an odd consequence: sometimes, typically in early winter, Cedar Waxwings consume large quantities of overripe, fermented berries and become drunk. The poor, sozzled songbirds become predictably clumsy, flying low to the ground, crashing into windows, and falling out of trees. Although the idea of a wasted Waxwing ramming into a telephone pole is high comedy, intoxicated birds are prone to dying from alcohol poisoning or from flying under the influence. Luckily, some animal protection groups — including the Portland Audubon Society — run “drunk tanks” for birds, holding onto inebriated Waxwings until they can sober up and fly responsibly.

When they’re not being grounded for their own good, Cedar Waxwings are found in flocks all across the country. They like to roam in open woodlands and suburbs, and they especially love berry bushes and small trees. These debonair drunks can be identified by their gorgeous tan-yellow feathers, crest, black mask, and signature high-pitched whistling call. If you do spot a flock, be sure to admire their soft, sunset-colored feathers, and if one of the birds is teetering around like it’s had one too many, consider contacting a wildlife shelter for its sake.

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Gary Granger
Gary Granger
2 years ago

Another fine description of one of our local birds. It’s been a while since I’ve personally seen them at Reed, but this post reminds me to listen for the high-pitched calls that come from a flock.


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