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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Cedar Waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: BOMBYCILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Cedar Waxwing Photo

A treat to find in your binocular viewfield, the Cedar Waxwing is a silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers. In fall these birds gather by the hundreds to eat berries, filling the air with their high, thin, whistles. In summer you’re as likely to find them flitting about over rivers in pursuit of flying insects, where they show off dazzling aeronautics for a forest bird.

Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

Keys to identification Help

Flycatcherlike
Flycatcherlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Cedar Waxwing is a medium-sized, sleek bird with a large head, short neck, and short, wide bill. Waxwings have a crest that often lies flat and droops over the back of the head. The wings are broad and pointed, like a starling’s. The tail is fairly short and square-tipped.

  • Color Pattern

    Cedar Waxwings are pale brown on the head and chest fading to soft gray on the wings. The belly is pale yellow, and the tail is gray with a bright yellow tip. The face has a narrow black mask neatly outlined in white. The red waxy tips to the wing feathers are not always easy to see.

  • Behavior

    Cedar Waxwings are social birds that you’re likely to see in flocks year-round. They sit in fruiting trees swallowing berries whole, or pluck them in mid-air with a brief fluttering hover. They also course over water for insects, flying like tubby, slightly clumsy swallows.

  • Habitat

    Look for Cedar Waxwings in woodlands of all kinds, and at farms, orchards, and suburban gardens where there are fruiting trees or shrubs.

Range Map Help

Cedar Waxwing Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Cedar Waxwing

    Adult
    • Black mask and chin
    • Brown head and chest
    • Yellow wash across belly
    • White undertail
    • Yellow tail tip
    • © Kris Rash, Denver, Iowa, March 2007
  • Adult

    Cedar Waxwing

    Adult
    • Sometimes ragged brown crest
    • Black mask, white on forehead
    • Yellow belly
    • Unpatterned wings (sometimes with red tips to feathers)
    • © cdbtx, Monroe, Washington, June 2008
  • Adult

    Cedar Waxwing

    Adult
    • Often found in flocks near fruiting trees in winter
    • © Byard Miller, Marlborough, New Hampshire, February 2008
  • Adult

    Cedar Waxwing

    Adult
    • Some show orange or reddish tail tip
    • © Byard Miller, Marlborough, New Hampshire, March 2008
  • Molting immature

    Cedar Waxwing

    Molting immature
    • Black mask lined with white on cheek and forehead
    • Short crest
    • Mottled dusky on chest
    • Yellow tail tip
    • © WarblerEd Schneider, Radnor Lake, Tennessee, November 2008

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Bohemian Waxwing

    Adult
    • Rufous undertail
    • Larger and bulkier
    • Grayer overall; gray (not yellowish) belly, grayer back, brown head
    • Rufous around face, no white on forehead
    • © Byard Miller, Marlborough, New Hampshire, February 2008
  • Adult

    Bohemian Waxwing

    Adult
    • Rufous undertail
    • White patches on wings
    • © Tony Morris, Kent, UK, December 2008
  • Adult

    Bohemian Waxwing

    Adult
    • White patches on wings; yellow markings on primaries
    • Grayer overall; gray (not yellowish) belly, grayer back, brown head
    • Rufous around face, no white on forehead
    • © Joanne Bovee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, December 2008
  • Adult

    Bohemian Waxwing

    Adult
    • White tips to wing feathers
    • Rufous undertail
    • © Tony Morris, Kent, UK, December 2008

Similar Species

Cedar Waxwings are pale yellow fading to white on the belly, whereas Bohemian Waxwings have gray bellies and rich rufous under the tail. When perched, Bohemian Waxwings have white bars across the dark wing feathers; Cedar Waxwings lack these markings. In flight, Cedar Waxwings have a very similar shape to European Starlings, with stocky bodies, short tails, and pointed wings. Look for the waxwing's pale underbelly and, if the light is good, the yellow tip to the tail. Also listen for the waxwing's high, lisping call note, often given in flight.

Backyard Tips

Cedar Waxwings love fruit. To attract waxwings to your yard, plant native trees and shrubs that bear small fruits, such as dogwood, serviceberry, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, and winterberry.

Find This Bird

Cedar Waxwings are often heard before they’re seen, so learn their high-pitched call notes. Look for them low in berry bushes, high in evergreens, or along rivers and over ponds. Be sure to check big flocks of small birds: waxwings are similar to starlings in size and shape, and often form big unruly flocks that grow, shrink, divide, and rejoin like starling flocks.

Get Involved

Cedar Waxwings are a focal bird species for the Celebrate Urban Birds! project. Conduct a 10-minute count and record whether or not you see waxwings.

Help track the nomadic movements of Cedar Waxwings by reporting your sightings to eBird

Learn how to find and monitor bird nests for NestWatch

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