Pond Party

It’s time for a party in the pond! At least the Cedar Waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum, think so.

On a roughly every-other-year cycle, these winter migratory birds swoop into the garden, always as part of a large group. They gab, preen, and fluff in the trees, and splash and sip at the pond.

The second bird from the right looks like it might be sticking out its tongue. In fact, like many birds, waxwings scoop their beaks into water, then lift their heads to swallow. The photo simply captured the scoop-with-tongue-engaged-before swallowing.

Cedar Waxwings are beautiful birds and a joy to observe. Their plumage is soft beige with blue-grey shading, complemented by a buttery yellow tummy. Wing tips are dabbed in brilliant red in one spot and sunny yellow in another. A jaunty black mask completes their avian dress, highlighting bright eyes with a dramatic dash of white eye liner. The mask suggests a mischievous, rakish look. Sociable and flighty, it’s rare to see one waxwing on its own, though it does happen. They usually fly and perch in large groups, singing together with high-pitched calls. I usually hear them before I see them and I love that sound.

The tail feathers of Cedar Waxwings are tipped in bright yellow, except on some birds whose tail tips are orange. If a young waxwing eats enough berries from a non-native honeysuckle species, its tail tip will be orange, rather than the typical yellow. Orange-tipped waxwings were first seen in the 1960s and are fairly common. In the photo below, you can see the tail feather of a bird (or more accurately, part-bird…) to the left. Its companion has the “normal” yellow. I think both are fetching.

Cedar Waxwings will pop in for group visits and splashes in the baths for the next month or so. Then, they’ll wing their way northward to their breeding grounds in northern U.S. and southern Canada. I hope to see Cedar Waxwings in their breeding area one day, but until then, they’re most welcome to enjoy their winter vacations at my home.

19 thoughts on “Pond Party

  1. Your pictures are the first I’ve seen of waxwings and water. A day or two ago it was more robins than waxwings going for some of the remaining fruit on the yaupon tree outside my window. At least four installments in the past month, and hardly any fruit remains now.

    You’ve given a good explanation of why the yellow is occasionally orange.


    • Water is generally what brings them to my gardens. My SIL reported that when we were traveling in December/January, that a crew of waxwings came through for my possumhaw. The stripped it of berries, as they do, leaving none that I could see when I got home. I’m sorry I missed that show.


  2. Pool party! You describe their beauty quite well, Tina. I love seeing them here in the summer and fall (and hearing their ‘zee-zee’ calls). They breed along our small river and hawk for insects from the trees along the banks, fun to watch. Always a flock descends upon my winterberry in fall and in a day or two, all the berries are gone. Last year, I couldn’t even grab a branch for my wreath before they were all gone! I can’t fault them. 🙂


  3. I’ve managed to see a few robins this year, but not a single waxwing. It’s great that you photos of both yellow and orange-tipped tails. They really are handsome birds, and the bits of color are a nice ‘plus.’ They can move through a crop of berries lickety-split, though. That pond of yours has served you well, slowing down some of the birds as it does.


    • I haven’t seen a single robin, though my Merlin app on sound said there was one nearby one morning. Lickety-split is right: when they move in for the eats, those berries don’t last long!

      Yes, the pond has been a great asset to my back garden. I can’t even imagine a garden without some sort of water feature.


  4. Waxwings are beautiful, both Cedar and Bohemian, and I envy you having the Cedars visiting your yard. The first time I saw them was along a river in upper New York state and it was a delight to see them swooping out from the trees to grab insects over the water.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never seen a Bohemian Waxwing, though I’ve seen photos and I know they’re in Texas during parts of the year. You’re right, they’re both gorgeous birds. It is fun to watch them swoop around!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love Cedar Waxwings! When I was growing up, our neighbor had a barberry hedge. They flock used to swoop in and munch on those berries in the fall. My dad once found an injured one and brought it home to me. We tried nursing it along in a paper box, feeding it berries. Sadly, our efforts were in vain. I still remember how sad I was when it died. 😦


    • They do love their berries, that’s for sure! Oh, that’s a sad story. I think most of us have tried, and failed, to save an injured bird. They’re remarkable creatures, and yet, so fragile in some ways.

      How’s your snow?? Gosh, 11 inches in Portland–are you digging out??

      Liked by 1 person

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