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Some Cedar Waxwings Have Orange Tail Tips

1-23-19 cedar waxwing with orange tail tip_u1a2642Cedar Waxwings can be found in most of New England year-round. They are one of the few North American birds that specializes in eating fruit, particularly in the fall and winter. Unlike the Pine Grosbeak (see 1/16/19 post), which crushes the fruit and consumes only the seeds, Cedar Waxwings eat the whole fruit. If it has fermented, they will feel the effects and, like humans, become somewhat tipsy.

If you look carefully at a flock of Cedar Waxwings you may spot one that has an orange-tipped tail, rather than yellow. This has to do with the bird’s diet. Morrow’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) was imported in the late 1800s for use as an ornamental, for wildlife food and cover as well as for soil erosion control, but it is now recognized as an invasive plant. Its fruit contains red pigment in addition to the normal yellow pigment found in honeysuckle berries. If a Cedar Waxwing happens to eat enough of the fruit of Morrow’s Honeysuckle at the time of feather formation (they molt between August and January), its tail feathers will have orange tips instead of the usual yellow. Cedar Waxwings with orange tail tips began appearing in northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada in the 1960’s.

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7 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    I wonder why their lighter breast and belly feathers and under the tail & chin don’t grow with the orange pigment?

    January 23, 2019 at 8:17 am

  2. What should one look for to ID a Cedar Waxwing from a Bohemian Waxwing?
    There have been reports of Bohemian Waxwings in the New London area but they all look like Cedar Waxwings to me.

    January 23, 2019 at 8:25 am

    • The easiest way is to look at the feathers beneath the tail (under tail coverts). Bohemians have rust-colored feathers there, cedars have white!

      January 23, 2019 at 12:52 pm

  3. Mary, how do you ALWAYS come up with a new piece of info about nature? Amazing, and now I shall start looking hard for (1) Cedar Waxwings, ans (2) that orange wing-tip!! That;s a great photo of yours, once again :-))) THANKYOU!!!!

    January 23, 2019 at 8:57 am

  4. Fascinating! And another gorgeous photo, Mary!

    January 23, 2019 at 9:23 am

  5. Eliot Stanley/& Julia Adams

    Liked your piece today on cedar waxwing tail color. Hope you’ll discuss symbiosis involving 2 species of birds, such as the behavior of Swainson’s Warbler & the Ovenbird. I saw this on the Miami-Dade CBC 3 years ago(I had read in a book on warblers that it occurs). The Ovenbird went along on the ground turning up leaves to find food; the Swainson’s Warbler followed a foot or so behind the Ovenbird and inspected the turned up leaves for tiny insects, which it ate. Thanks for your valuable articles. EHS

    January 23, 2019 at 9:47 am

  6. Joan Oppenheimer

    Out-of-this-world gorgeous photo!

    January 23, 2019 at 1:52 pm

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