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cedar waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum

What do they look like?

Cedar waxwings are sleek birds with silky plumage. They are approximately 15.5 cm long and weigh about 32 g. Adults have grayish-brown plumage with a pale yellow breast and belly. They also have bright red wax-like spots on their wings and a bright yellow band at the tip of their tail. Cedar waxwings have a crest on top of their head and black mask around their eyes.

Male and female waxwings look similar. Females may be slightly bigger than males during the breeding season. Young cedar waxwings look similar to adults, but are greyer. They also have streaks on their belly and a much smaller crest than adults. Young cedar waxwings do not have the red spots on their wings either. (Robbins, et al., 1966; Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Average mass
    32 g
    1.13 oz
  • Average mass
    30 g
    1.06 oz
  • Average length
    15.5 cm
    6.10 in

Where do they live?

Cedar waxwings (Bombycillia cedrorum) are found only in North America. Their breeding range extends throughout the southern half of Canada and the northern half of the United States. The winter range includes the United States, Mexico and Central America as far south as Panama. They also winter in the Caribbean region. Many birds in the northern United States and extreme southern Canada are year-round residents.

Vagrant cedar waxwings are occasionally seen in Iceland and Great Britain. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Cedar waxwings nest in open woodlands (deciduous, coniferous and mixed) or fields. They like areas with small trees and shrubs for nesting and food. They often nest in riparian areas, which have shrubs and trees for nesting and fruit and emerging aquatic insects. They also use farms, orchards, conifer plantations, and gardens.

How do they reproduce?

Cedar waxwings are monogamous. Males try to attract a female by doing a hopping dance and passing pieces of fruit, flower petals or insects to the female. If the female likes the male, she does a hopping dance and then passes the object back to the male. The male and female may pass something back and forth many times. Breeding pairs form in the spring, and the birds nest and breed from June through August. If a pair is able to raise one brood, they may try to raise a second brood together during the same summer. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Cedar waxwings breed between June and August. A breeding pair may raise one or two broods during a single breeding season. The female lays 2 to 5 eggs (usually 4 or 5). She lays one egg each morning. She incubates the eggs for 11 to 13 days (average 12). The chicks are blind, weak, and naked when they hatch. They stay in the nest for 14 to 18 days (average 15 days) before leaving on short flights. The parents feed the young for 6 to 10 days after this. The young birds form flocks after they leave their nests. They remain in these flocks as they mature. They breed the next summer when they are about 1 year old. (University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, 2000; Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Cedar waxwings raise one or two broods each year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in spring and early summer.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
    4 or 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 13 days
  • Range fledging age
    14 to 18 days
  • Average fledging age
    15 days
  • Range time to independence
    6 to 10 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Female cedar waxwings incubate the eggs and brood the chicks for the first 9 days after they hatch. During incubation, the male brings food to the female and guards the nest. Both parents feed the chicks while they are in the nest and for up to 10 days after they begin flying. Both parents also remove the chicks’ fecal sacks from the nest to keep the nest clean. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

The oldest known cedar waxwing lived 7 years in the wild. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

How do they behave?

Cedar waxwings are nomadic. They travel in flocks from place to place. The only time that they stay in the same area is during the breeding season. Some cedar waxwings are also migratory. Cedar waxwings are very social. They travel in flocks and do not defend a territory. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Average territory size
    0 km^2

Home Range

The home range size of cedar waxwings is unknown. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

How do they communicate with each other?

Cedar waxwings communicate using calls and physical displays. They make several calls that high-pitched buzzy notes hissy whistles. These calls are used to communicate hunger, fear, well-being and many other messages. Males, females and chicks all use calls to communicate.

Cedar waxwings also communicate using physical displays. For example, they raise the feather crest on their head to indicate that they are upset. They open their mouths and ruffle their feathers to signal that they feel threatened. Females often do this to show that they are not interested in a male that is courting them. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

What do they eat?

Cedar waxwings eat fruit during the winter and insects during the summer. Cedar berries are the most common fruit that cedar waxwings eat. They take the fruit from the tree by holding on to a branch and plucking it off with their beaks. They can do this sitting upright or hanging upside-down. They also can take the fruit from the tree while hovering in the air. Cedar waxwings also eat the fruits of other shrubs that retain berries in winter, such as hollies.

During the summer months, cedar waxwings eat mostly insects. They often catch insects by waiting around ponds and streams for the insects to emerge from the water. Most of the time, they snatch the insects from the air while they are flying. They also find insect prey by searching along bark and in tree branches. (University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, 2000; Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Merlins, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, common grackles and bullfrogs are all predators of cedar waxwings. Bullfrogs eat the waxwings when they lean down to drink from a pond. Blue jays eat waxwing nestlings and house wrens eat waxwing eggs.

When a predator is nearby, cedar waxwings try to hide themselves by standing up straight and staying still. If they are flying together in a flock, waxwings may crowd together to try to escape predators that chase them. During incubation and the nestling period, males guard the nest from a perch nearby and give a warning call when predators come near the nest. The parents then try to distract the predator by flying away from the nest in a zig-zag path, or by diving at the predator. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Cedar waxwings disperse seeds of the plants that they eat while eating the berries and through defecation. They also affect populations of the insects that they eat. Finally, cedar waxwings host external parasites, including feather mites and hippoboscid flies. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Do they cause problems?

Cedar waxwings eat some economically valuable fruit crops.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

Cedar waxwings eat insects that some people consider to be pests. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Cedar waxwings are common throughout their range. The number of cedar waxwings has increased in number over the last 40 years or so. This is probably because there is more food available.

Cedar waxwings are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. They are not an endangered or threatened species. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Some more information...

Bombycillia cedrorum is one of only three species of waxwing in the family of Bombycillidae. The other two species are found in North America (Bohemian waxwing) and Japan (Japanese waxwing). ()


Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Laura Klein (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Kerry Yurewicz (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Inc.

University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, 2000. "Species Description: Cedar Waxwing" (On-line). Georgia Wildlife Web. Accessed 03/23/08 at

Witmer, M., D. Mountjoy, L. Elliot. 1997. Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). Pp. 1-28 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 309. Philadelphia, PA: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington DC: The American Ornithologists Union.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Klein, L. 2003. "Bombycilla cedrorum" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 22, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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