In an attempt to soften the look of parking lots, commercial developers often plant grass around the perimeter of the lot and drop skinny little grass islands along the traffic lanes. In these little slivers of grass, they will often plant small, low maintenance shrubs like junipers and yews. To provide height, ornamental crab apples are often planted in these little slivers of green.
Crabapple trees provide color and interest in all four seasons and they can have a nice compact growth. They are relatively undamaged by insects and require little pruning. For these reasons, ornamental crabapple trees have been found to be ideal for these commercial applications.
But while developers like the crabapples' compact growth and low maintenance, the birds like the fruits the trees bear. Crabapple fruit is always small, two inches in diameter or less. The fruits are borne in late summer and often remain on the trees well into winter. After the fruits have frozen and thawed, perhaps multiple times, they become especially attractive to fruit-loving birds like American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.
Mixed flocks of these birds can descend on crabapples in great numbers and strip the remaining fruit within hours. Freezing and thawing breaks down the sugars in the fruits, which seems to make them more attractive.
The robins and waxwings coexist nicely as they forage together on these compact trees. I thought I even saw a robin looking out for a waxwing - once, as I approached a waxwing, a robin flew up close to the waxwing as if to alert it to my approach!
If the birds get spooked from one tree, they just move on to the next. As the fruit on a tree gets cleared off, they move to the next tree. And when all the trees around one parking lot have been stripped, they'll move on to the fruit trees in the next lot, then the next, and so on.
This makes it so easy to see Cedar Waxwings tossing down fruits and berries. If you don't have fruit-bearing trees in your yard, a parking lot, surprisingly, may be your best chance to get a close view of these handsome birds.
So next time you go to the mall, or the grocery store, the doctor's office or even that fast food restaurant, check out the trees around the lot and you just might get the best deal in town there - a tree full of foraging waxwings and robins!