|Cedar waxwings travel in nomadic flocks. Photos by J.J. Meyer|
It's time to start watching for cedar waxwings. The species arrival to Southern California is an announcement that the holiday season has begun.
Check out their travel patterns on ebird: eBird Abundance Map
Cedar waxwings appear to be little fruit bandits because of their distinctive black masks outlined in white. They measure about 7 inches in length with a pale brown head and crest that fades to soft gray on the wings and tail. Birders often spot them by their yellow bellies. Other markings include bright yellow tips on the tail and the red waxy wing tips, which increase in size and number as the birds age.
Cedar waxwings are gregarious birds that travel in large, noisy flocks. In fact, it's rare to spot a single bird. They're nomadic birds that travel in search of food, instead of a taking a predictable migration path. Their distinctive call – a high-pitched, trilled whistle – often helps birders locate their presence.
While these birds eat insects, they are primarily fruit-eaters in winter. Therefore, fruit availability may be more of a predictor of their winter presence than temperature or latitude. They're very partial to soft fruits and berries and can be susceptible to alcohol intoxication and death from eating fermented fruit.
Their name comes from their strong attraction to the sweet blue berries of the red cedar tree.
Cedar waxwings visit California in fall and winter, staying until late February or early March when they fly north to breed in the northern United States and Canada.
To attract cedar waxwings to your yard, plant native trees and shrubs that bear small fruits in winter, such as California wild rose, holly-leaved cherry, manzanitas and California holly.