Gardening for Birds: Planting for Cedar Waxwings


by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Author: Julianne Labreche, Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton

One late winter day, just as the weather was turning mild, a large flock of cedar waxwings descended onto the old crabapple tree in my backyard. It was a sight to behold. There were so many of these lovely birds, recognizable with their narrow black facial mask, a yellow band on the tail, and flickers of a red waxy secretion on their wing feathers. Within minutes, it seemed, the withered, dried small crabapples on the tree were devoured. Then, the flock moved on.

Cedar Waxwing Diet

Cedar waxwings are a medium-sized species, about 15 to 20 cm long. They are nomadic and highly social birds that breed in the summer months in Canada and travel in flocks to different places to spend their winters. You will find them in Ottawa during the summer, eating fruit such as raspberries and strawberries and carrying out an array of dazzling aerobatics as they chase and capture insects for their young. In the fall, they gather to migrate south, eating different fruits and berries along the way, including elderberry, serviceberry, dogwood, and winterberries. They migrate as far south as Mexico and Central America.

Cedar waxwings will be happy to visit your garden if you plant fruit or berry bushes, both native and nonnative. They are one of the few birds that specialize in eating fruit. Many birds that eat fruit regurgitate the seeds, but cedar waxwings consume the entire fruit, thereby helping with seed dispersal through their droppings. Like other birds, however, they rely on insects to feed their young for the first few days before switching to a fruit diet. Gardeners who enjoy birds should avoid using pesticides in the garden and not be so quick to destroy bugs.

Native Plants for Cedar Waxwings

To attract cedar waxwings to your garden, grow these native plants:

Dotted hawthorn (Crataegus punctata)

This large shrub or small tree grows in full sun or partial shade. Its white flowers provide nectar for birds, and its bright red berries provide fall fruit. This deciduous tree grows in clay, loam, sand, and coarse soil. Caution is advised, however, as it has sharp thorns.

Common juniper (Juniperus communis)

This is a small evergreen shrub that prefers full sun and produces berries in fall and winter. Common junipers are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. Female plants produce small blue berries, while male plants produce little brown cones. Juniper berries are popular not only with cedar waxwings but also with other birds, including grouses, pheasants, and bobwhites (these latter birds, seen in rural settings, never visit my urban garden).

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Despite its common name, this evergreen is not a cedar but a juniper. It grows in full sun. At maturity, it is a medium-sized tree, up to ten metres high. It will grow in clay, sand, loam or coarse soil. Its fruit is a favourite of cedar waxwings, which explains, in part, the name of this bird.

For the sounds of cedar waxwings, click here

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