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Some Thoughts About Cedar Birds

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March 29, 2010 by wcobserver

Please give me a quick answer to the following: What small bird goes around in tight flocks of say 25 or 50 individuals? Makes a pleasant, high-pitched call in flight? And, then suddenly the entire flock pitches down into bushes or trees with fruit that has ripened over the winter? If you think you know the answer, write the bird’s name on a $20 bill and send it to me. Just kidding.Our entire area, including the western Ozarks and Washington County, is currently home for many thousands of Cedar Waxwings. We see them off and on throughout the year, including the nesting season. After the huge ice storm in late January 2009, I watched as flocks of hungry Cedar Waxwings gorged themselves on ripe persimmons on limbs that had been broken off in the storm. The fruit-covered limbs were lying in the road. The waxwings were competing with robins for the fruit. They reminded me very much of Audubon’s painting of Carolina Parakeets – gorgeous, colorful, lively creatures, perching upside down, sideways, and at all angles between, always lusty in their pursuit of fruit. Farmers in parts of their range have called them “cherry birds,” for reasons that will probably be obvious at this point. It was not meant as a complement, either. It’s all about the fruit.

It is now, at the end of winter and in the beginning of spring, that we see really big hungry flocks. They harvest all kinds of fruit – cedar berries, anything that’s left on honeysuckle bushes, the last of the persimmon fruits that have survived through winter, and all kinds of fruits on ornamentals, like hollies, yaupon, and the like. March tends to be the peak season for their migration through northwest Arkansas. I’ve seen flocks in March that numbered as many as 500 birds, swarming over and among cedars and hollies that still had fruit.

Other fruit-lovers, like mockingbirds, don’t appreciate waxwing flocks that deplete the local food supplies. The mockingbirds are larger in size and have a much bigger and presumably menacing bill. As the waxwings surge in toward the fruit, the mockingbird storms right at them, wings flashing in full chase mode. The waxwings retreat, briefly, then return. It can go on for hours and the waxwings can usually at least get their share.

Most of the Cedar Waxwings have departed for the north by early June, but a small number also nest here. Nesting seems to commence by early June for the few pairs we find all summer. I’ve seen young birds being fed out of the nest by adults as late as mid-September.

Finally: I’m always interested to receive questions from others who watch birds. All questions are welcome, but my answers may or may not be of real value! Just kidding, again. I’ll do my best.

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