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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
The oldest known cedar waxwing lived 7 years in the wild. (Witmer, et al., 1997)
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)
The home range size of cedar waxwings is unknown. (Witmer, et al., 1997)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Cedar waxwings eat some economically valuable fruit crops.
Cedar waxwings eat insects that some people consider to be pests. (Witmer, et al., 1997)
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)
Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Laura Klein (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Kerry Yurewicz (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
uses sight to communicate
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 http://dromus.nhm.uga.edu/~GMNH/gawildlife/index.php?page=speciespages/species_page&key=bcedrorum.
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.