At Rancho Los Cerritos, Winter is for the Birds

By Jennifer Rice Epstein Gardens Comments Off on At Rancho Los Cerritos, Winter is for the Birds

Cedar Waxwing Long Beach

Recently, friend of the Rancho Jerry Millett captured a wonderful photo of one of one of the museum’s winged visitors.

These handsome, gregarious birds migrate to Southern California — and our Long Beach garden — timing their journey to the ripening of their preferred food source, berries. While they will consume insects, these birds are berry specialists, and they are at Rancho Los Cerritos to feast on our abundant Toyon berries (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

Highly social, Cedar Waxwings sweep in whistling and calling; not in a ridged formation of some migrants but in an aerial ballet with individual birds twisting in midair while others toe the line. They alight in one tree together nearby the target tree, seeming to check out any competition and then converge upon the ripest toyon with gusto and much avian commentary. Unlike most birds, they swallow the berry whole.

Seen up close, Cedar Waxwings are downright dapper. Not a brightly colored bird, it is with understated elegance that these handsome creatures capture your attention. The dignified crest and black eye mask are not flashy but striking. And the yellow tip of the tail and the red “wax” on their tips of their secondary feathers of the wings adds just a hint of color that elevates this bird from being drab to being distinguished, even when they are gorging on berries!

Here at the Rancho, we don’t mind sharing the fruit, but in ages past the Tongva, who made their homes in present-day Long Beach, would have competed with the birds for the harvest. Take a garden tour (offered every weekend, and on weekdays by appointment) to hear more about Toyon’s place in Southern California’s past and present.

And you just might spot some feathered visitors along the way.

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