Bird of the Week: Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing, Phillip Hardy

Cedar Waxwing

The Cedar Waxwing is an exceptionally handsome bird. Its black mask, subtle coloring, yellow tail, and bright red “waxy” wingtips make it easy to spot. Cedar Waxwings are unusual among North American birds for their frugivorous diet, often subsisting for months on nothing but berries. This dietary preference may in fact be the cause of their distinctive waxy wingtips: some scientists believe they are the result of a buildup of carotenoids, the organic pigments that give red fruits their color. The beautiful lemon-yellow tip on the Waxwing tail may also be related to its diet; in recent years, an orange-tailed variant has been attributed to a diet high in the bright red berries of Morrow’s honeysuckle. An interesting consequence of the Waxwing diet is the occasional tendency to overindulge: Waxwings will often eat more than they can digest, storing the surplus in the esophagus. If left there for too long, the fruit can ferment, intoxicating the birds to the point of visible drunkenness and even alcohol poisoning!

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

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