During the last week I have been pleased to see two pairs of Cedar Waxwings building nests in Eliza Howell Park. It is always a thrill to see these late-arriving and late-nesting birds.
(This photo and the other two of waxwings below are courtesy of Margaret Weber.)
Cedar Waxwings are somewhat unpredictable in their selection of nesting locations — this is only the 5th year I have found their nests in the last 11 years — but, since the park provides a lot of fruit, I am confident that they will be around for the summer and early fall.
They are very skilled at flying out and snagging insects, a sight that I have often witnessed along rivers, but they seem to prefer small fruit whenever that is available.
Song birds regularly feed insects to their young in the nest, but Cedar Waxwings add fruit. One of the fruits they eat in Eliza Howell in breeding season is mulberry.
Some studies of Cedar Waxwings report that when cowbirds lay their eggs in waxwing nests, the cowbird hatchlings usually do not survive because young cowbirds cannot tolerate that much fruit in their diet.
Later in the summer, the waxwings are attracted to the Black Cherries that are common in the park and ripen in Auguest.
Except when they are nesting, waxwings are typically in small flocks and I often stop to watch them feed in the cherry trees, impressed by their ability to reach the fruit without losing their perch.
One of the waxwings building a nest in the park this year has orange instead of yellow at the tip of its tail (unfortunately, no photo). I have not seen this before, but have heard of it. It apparently results from eating Morrow’s Honeysuckle berries while molting the previous year. Morrow Honeysuckle berries contain red pigment and when the new tail feathers grew in, they were orange.
Eliza Howell honeysuckles ripen later and often keep Cedar Waxwings around into November. The most common honeysuckle here is Amur Honeysuckle.
Waxwings migrate, but Michigan is in the area where the winter range and the summer range overlap. Some few are around all winter, if they can find late fruit.
Stories are often told about Cedar Waxwings eating fermented fruit late in the season and getting falling down drunk!
They are attracted to fruit trees already in the spring when there is no fruit to eat.
The extensive blossoming on the cherry trees and honeysuckle bushes this spring suggests a good berry crop in the park this year, enough to keep the lovely and graceful Cedar Waxwings around for the next 4 months or more.