Eastern Red Cedar Waxwings

A good omen yesterday: a little flock of cedar waxwings flew into our cedars to feast on the berries.

I could flap my gums and wax eloquent about these softly beautiful birds, but first let’s look at the tree they are feasting on: Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana).

I love this tree. It’s a scrubby scrappy tree. One of the first species to grow back in damaged or eroded land. It is also a far and away favourite of the critters that visit here. The bright blue “berries” — the female cones — are recklessly munched by red squirrels and most other passersby. I think it is not considered a pretty tree, but I don’t consider that consideration well considered.

The blue cones of these junipers take three years to mature – year one they flower, year two the cone turns green, and year three they are sky-blue and ready for harvest. The Eastern Red Cedar berry is listed in the Slow Food Foundation’s “Ark of Taste”: a project to recognize and draw attention to “small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet.”

“Eastern red cedar berries are related to common juniper berries but are superior in flavor. They are mild without the turpentine notes and bitterness of common juniper. They are almost sweet, with a woodsy piney flavor.”

~ Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

Cedar waxwings engage in beak rubbing, dances, and food sharing as displays of courtship, and “[o]lder birds pair preferentially with each other”. As I look over at my mate of 20 plus years, I get it. I may not secrete a red waxy substance from my feather shafts, but between their food sharing and their love of the eastern red cedar, me and the waxwings have a lot in common.


Selected Sources: The Birder’s Handbook by Paul R. Ehrlich et al; The Slow Food Foundation Ark of Taste Project