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Living Sanibel: The spectacular cedar waxwing

By Staff | Dec 10, 2014

The cedar waxwing is a spectacular sighting when encountered, though it is not a common bird in Florida. Its gorgeous coloration-brownish above, yellow belly, and white under-tail coverts-makes it easy to identify.

It is lightly smaller than a cardinal and has a similar crest. The adult waxwing secretes a waxy, reddish substance from the feather shafts of its secondary flight feathers, perhaps as a signal of age or social status, though no one has been able to determine exactly why these waxy secretions occur. The waxwing ventures all the way north to central Canada in the summer and as far south as the northern edge of South America during the winter.

The waxwing survives almost entirely on fruit and berries. That characteristic sometimes dooms parasitic cowbird chicks because the food that the waxwing brings to the young cowbirds does not contain enough of the insect protein they need to thrive. The cedar waxwing has been known to ingest fermented berries not only to the point of intoxication, but also to the point of death from alcohol poisoning.

It builds solitary nests but will sometimes roost in loose colonies. Its nests can be raided by any number of winged and four-legged predators, and the adult is sometimes taken by falcons.

-A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.