Small bird, large flock, huge mess? Cedar Waxwings

“There are a ton of small brown birds in my backyard…”

“…little birds making a big mess in my driveway…”

“…high-pitched birds hanging out in my trees…”

“…what are they?”

These types of emails and phone calls have been entering the eyeballs and ears of TAS staff at a steady pace the past few months, and the answer is almost always one little winter migrant: Cedar Waxwings.

You can’t tell by looking at them from a distance, but they are quite beautiful birds. With bold black masks, bright red wing spots, and yellow tail tips, they are arguably one of the most attractive birds we see in Austin all year. However, their habit of forming large flocks and eating berries that almost immediately evacuate their bodies give them a reputation for being a bit of a nuisance. In fact, my mother in San Antonio calls me frequently during the mild months just to ask when they are going to leave– they hang out in the tree above her driveway and dot her white car with purple spots.

Cedar Waxwings enjoy a diet of mainly fruit, which is supplemented by insects in the summer months. As their name implies, they are fond of the small blue berries produced by Ashe Juniper, which are in no short supply in Central Texas. At times, they are seen in mixed flocks with American Robins (which have been unusually abundant around Austin this year!). Cedar Waxwings produce a very high-pitched call, one that some people cannot even hear!

For those of you who like Cedar Waxwings, enjoy them before they go north for the spring. For those who are ready for them to leave, don’t worry– they’ll be on their way in a month or two.

-Caley Zuzula, Program and Education Coordinator, Travis Audubon