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Cedar Waxwings Turn to Highbush Cranberry As a Last Resort

3-28-14 cedar waxwing 159The primary food of Cedar Waxwings is fleshy fruits that have a high sugar content. Because these birds rely on ripening fruit to feed their nestlings, they are among the latest birds to nest in the Northeast. During the winter they tend to be nomadic, wandering from one sugary fruit supply to another. In the past, juniper berries have dominated their winter diet, but waxwings are increasingly turning to ornamentals such as non-native honeysuckle. (Occasionally waxwings with orange, not yellow, terminal tail bands are seen; this change in color has been attributed to their change in diet.) The fruit of Highbush Cranberry, being consumed in this photograph, is quite acidic and has a low sugar content. It is eaten by most songbirds, including Cedar Waxwings, only towards the end of winter, when sweeter fruit is in short supply.

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11 responses

  1. Good post. Right on target!

    March 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

  2. Penny March

    They love the crabapple between the Courthouse and the Library in Woodstock. Very small yellow fruits. Any idea what variety that would be?

    March 28, 2014 at 1:10 pm

  3. I love cedar waxwings! I think they are beyond beautiful. The fineness of their feathers make them look so smooth, like velour. I love to watch them feed on insects above the river in the summer and their “zee-zee” calls add to the pleasure.

    March 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm

  4. Jennifer Waite

    I’ve read that the non-native honeysuckle berries are like junk food for birds – not nearly as sustaining as native berries. I love watching the waxwings on our amelanchier, they can barely wait until the berries are ripe enough to eat!
    Beautiful pic Mary!

    March 28, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    • If you have a source for the honeysuckle nutrition information, Jennifer, I’d love to know it. I’ve tried to find some information on the nutritional value of non-native honeysuckle fruit and haven’t found anything much at all. Thanks! Mary

      March 28, 2014 at 7:06 pm

  5. Jean Harrison

    re Lonicera japonica
    Caloric value of fruits has been measured at 4,419 cal/g [20] and 374 Calories/pulp of 1 fruit [98].
    98. Pitts, T. David; Conner, Mike; Crews, Steven; [and others]. 1989. Winter plant foods of eastern bluebirds in Tennessee. Sialia. 11(2): 57-61. [25056]
    20. Burns, Thomas A.; Viers, Charles E., Jr. 1973. Caloric and moisture content values of selected fruits and mast. Journal of Wildlife Management. 37(4): 585-587. [41689]

    I assume most of the calories are from sugar, but I haven’t read either reference.

    March 28, 2014 at 7:34 pm

  6. Mary Peabody

    We have also noticed in the past 2 months pairs or groups of grouse eating lots more non- native fruit: crabapples, dried up plums and cherries ( still on tree), which we have never seen before. Is this because of the unusually cold / snowy winter? Or are these normal food sources?

    March 29, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    • Hi Mary,
      Hawthorn, cherry, apple and blueberry fruit and buds are normal winter food for ruffed grouse, but not nearly as popular with them as poplar, willow and hazelnut buds.

      March 29, 2014 at 4:18 pm

  7. Jennifer Waite

    Doug Tallamy (author of the fabulous “Bringing Nature Home”) is an entomologist at University of Delaware and has been doing great work on the impact of invasive plants on the terrestrial food chain. I went to see him lecture at UVM and had great data on invasive plant vs. native plant hedgerows:
    A shrub border made up of natives supports 35 times more caterpillars than a shrub border of honeysuckle and privet – Think of how much harder it is for a bird to find food – how much more energy and time it takes. No wonder our birds are struggling!

    April 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    • Amazing statistic, Jennifer! Thanks for enlightening myself and others!

      April 2, 2014 at 7:59 pm

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