It's always an exciting day when I spot the first flock of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in the fall! These lively little birds spend the summer in cooler climes, from Northern California up to Washington and Canada, and across the northern United States. But as temperatures drop, these birds head south to spend winter in the southern half of the United States as well as Central America. They seem to arrive in the Central Valley of California in October and stick around until April or May.
The masked Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
The arrival of Cedar Waxwings is, to me, a sure sign of fall. Over the weekend, while walking the dogs with my husband, I stopped mid-sentence when I heard their familiar call: a thin, high-pitched whistle. And there they were, a flock of beautiful Cedar Waxwings, in the top of a Chinese Pistache tree.
The diet of the Cedar Waxwing consists largely of berries and other fruit, supplemented with insects during the summer. They will pick small insects directly off leaves and bark year-round as well. To find these birds in the Central Valley of California, look for loose flocks of active birds in trees and shrubs with ripe berries. Some of our native plants that are favorable to Cedar Waxwings include Toyon, Elderberry, Dogwood, Juniper, Cedar and Mistletoe. (Aside: Oak Mistletoe is so valuable to wildlife in California that some ecologists consider it a keystone species. A topic for another day!) Cedar Waxwings also benefit from introduced ornamental trees, such as Chinese Pistache, Mulberry, Crabapple, Hawthorn, Fruitless Pear and a number of other trees you may have in your landscape.
A flock of Cedar Waxwings in a Gingko tree
See if you can spot a flock of these lovely masked visitors this season. Cedar Waxwings are, in my opinion, a far better sign of fall than pumpkin-spiced desserts!