The Double Cone Quarterly
Window to the Wilderness
Winter Solstice 2000 || Volume III, Number 2

Birds of the Northern
Santa Lucia

Photo courtest of Bill Horn

Cedar Waxwing
Bombycilla cedrorum (silky tailed of cedars)

by Tom Hopkins © 2000
The Cedar Waxwing is a colorful and easily observed visitor to the Northern Santa Lucia Mountains from mid-autumn through spring. Adults measure about 7 inches from tip of bill to tip of tail. With their sweptback crest and black mask-like eye markings, cedar waxwings are easy to identify. The mouse brown coloring on their back, head and breast gives way to soft yellow on the belly. The tip of the tail has a bright yellow band that is characteristic of all Waxwings. Both sexes have similar plumage although some observers believe the dark throat patches are larger in males. Add to this the red tips of the secondary feathers and you have a very distinctive and beautiful songbird.

The common name, Waxwing, comes from the nature of the red colored material that develops at the tip of the secondary feathers in adult birds. This red material has a waxy consistency and is actually exuded from the shafts of the secondary feathers. While the function of this red wax is not known for certain, it may serve as a breeding signal since it does not appear until well into a bird's second year.

Cedar Waxwings are gregarious and generally found in fairly large flocks. In the Ventana, flocks numbering 50 or more birds can often be found in late autumn feeding on ripening Madrone berries. Other favorite local foods include berries of mistletoe, coffeberry, toyon and poison oak. They are sometimes seen passing ripe berries from bird to bird until one finally eats it. Because of their strong dependence on fruit and berries, Waxwings are significant contributors to the seed disbursal of these berry producing plants. Insects are another important food source for cedar waxwings. They often can be found "hawking" insects from tree perches in areas like Chews Ridge in mid-winter. Occasionally whole flocks can be seen flycatching over large expanses like the Los Padres Reservoir.

One of the most unusual habits of cedar waxwings is that they don't follow a typical north-south migration pattern, but rather wander throughout their range pursuing food sources. A similar species, the Bohemian Waxwing, is thought to have been called "bohemian" because of this characteristic habit of wandering about. Cedar waxwings are not known to breed or nest in the Northern Santa Lucia although they are occasionally observed here as late as June and July.


Ehrlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, Darryl Wheye; The Birder's Handbook, a Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1988.

Peterson, Roger Tory; Western Birds, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, Third Edition, 1990.

Roberson, Don, Chris Tenney (eds.); Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Monterey County California, Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society, 1993.

Scott, Shirley L. (ed.); Field Guide to the Birds of North America, National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C., Third Edition, 1999.

Terres, John K.; The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, Random House, New York, 1996.

|| DCQ || FeedBack ||