Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hello waxwing! Goodbye mulberries

It's mulberry season in Central Florida and that means it's also cedar waxwing season.

White mulberries...yum!

For those unfamiliar with these cardinal-sized birds, let me introduce you. Cedar waxwings are tawny-colored, white-outlined-black-masked, fruit-eating beauties with voracious appetites that can decimate an orchard within hours.  Because of their aggressive feeding habits, fruit farmers hate them but to anyone who loves birds, the annual arrival of these masked bandits to a mulberry tree, backyard holly bush or dogwood tree is a cause of delight.

Voracious little cuties

At our Groveland property, cedar waxwings have been devouring white and black mulberries on a seasonal basis for two decades.  With seemingly uncanny timing, these yellow-bellied bundles of grey and tan feathers arrive en mass about a week or so before the mulberries are ready to pick and proceed to stuff their stout little bodies with as many berries as they can find.

At first only a few birds - the designated scouts - stop by to survey the situation. I suppose it is their job to make sure the fruit trees are still where they were the previous year and report back to the rest of the flock when the fruit is ready to pluck.  I can always tell when they're here because the air practically shivers with the shrill, high-pitched whining sound waxwings make as they flutter back and forth between mulberry branches and a nearby sycamore tree.

A flock of waxwings resting in a nearby sycamore tree after devouring mulberries
This year, our mulberry crop is more plentiful than ever but if you think that means we will have buckets of fruit to harvest, think again. Between the ground-grazing feral pigs who eat the fallen berries and the cedar waxwings who eat the hanging fruit, we are left with merely a sampling of sweetness.

But, as I've come to learn, sweetness comes in many forms. While the birds' proclivity to get there first may prevent us from reaping the full bounty of our productive orchard, their amusing antics satisfies our appetite for sweet entertainment.


Cedar waxwings may be gluttonous bandits that decimate a fruit crop within hours but there's no denying their decided cuteness.  Are they fat little feathered thieves?  For sure. Are they fun to watch as they gorge themselves on mulberries?  Absolutely!

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