Where are All the Robins & Cedar Waxwings?

robinCedar Waxwings are gorgeous birds and when we don’t see flocks of them this time of year, they are missed. So here at GCBO we get questions about why they aren’t around and being seen.

Since they are sometimes referred to as ‘nomads of the sky’, one starts to get a hint about their irregular appearance. They wander widely in flocks searching for abundant food sources. This bird’s primary foods are fleshy fruits that are high in sugar content. The fruit of junipers historically dominated the winter diet, especially in the northern parts of the winter range, and most Cedar Waxwings still winter in parts of the country where junipers grow. The highest concentrations of wintering Cedar Waxwings occur in central Texas in the oak-juniper savanna and in Alabama and eastern Mississippi in stands of juniper, sweet gum, and oak. In recent years, Cedar Waxwings have increasingly turned to crops and ornamentals such as crabapple, hawthorn, firethorn, pepper tree, Russian olive in the West, and non-native honeysuckle in the East as winter food sources. This is one reason why these non-native plant species continue to spread because the birds disperse the seeds.

During winter, Cedar Waxwings range independently of either their breeding range or where they spent the previous winter. They wander so widely that it is hard to distinguish between wandering in search of food and their prolonged seasonal migration. Typically, however, large flocks of 30 to 100 birds move south on cold fronts or as fruit becomes locally depleted.

So what about robin red-breast, the quintessential early bird and harbinger of spring? During the nonbreeding, winter season, large flocks of hundreds or sometimes thousands of immature and adult birds migrate to lower elevations and latitudes, where they form roosting aggregations from which they track sources of berries.  Here in our part of the country, robins generally spend the winter in bottomland woods near berry-bearing trees; generally in moist woods in early winter, but in late winter commonly on lawns, pastures, and more open places. This is the time of year I often see them in the woods around my house. And sure enough, they are here this week.

The American Robin’s diet is highly variable, changing from primarily soft invertebrates, especially earthworms, in spring and summer, to primarily fruit in autumn and winter. They eat a wide variety of fruits, including chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, and sumac fruits, as well as juniper berries.

I looked at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website where birders enter their bird sightings to determine where these two species are being seen this winter. Sure enough, they are in the areas with the highest concentrations of berry producing plants. There are sightings here in southeast Texas but more out in the hill country where the juniper trees dominate.

So don’t despair, be on the lookout and hopefully you will spot some of these birds in the next few days.

Article By: Carol Jones Education Manager

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