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Bohemian Waxwing Life History


Habitat Forests

Bohemian Waxwings breed in open evergreen and mixed forests frequently near lakes, ponds, or streams in northern North America and Eurasia. During the nonbreeding season they roam through open woodlands, urban areas, roadsides, and parks, stopping wherever they find fruit.

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Food Insects

The Bohemian Waxwing eats insects and some fruit during the breeding season, but switches to eating almost entirely fruit during the nonbreeding season. When catching insects it flies out and back, often from an exposed perch, to grab prey in midair. It picks fruit from trees and shrubs and swallows it whole. It eats almost any fruit available including strawberry, mulberry, serviceberry, raspberry, mountain ash, cranberry, hawthorn, Russian olive, and apple. During the winter waxwings eat dried fruits. The higher sugar content of dried fruit means that waxwings frequently drink water and even eat snow to help with digestion. As winter turns to spring, birds also take sap dripping from maple and birch trees.

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Nest Placement

Nest Tree

Bohemian Waxwings nest along forest edges and openings near lakes, streams, and marshy areas. The nest is frequently on a horizontal branch of an evergreen, aspen, or alder tree.

Nest Description

Male and female Bohemian Waxwings gather evergreen twigs, grasses, mosses, and other plant fibers, but only the female builds the nest. She weaves the material together to from a cup nest that is approximately 6 inches across and 3 inches deep. The nest takes 3–5 days to complete.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.9-1.1 in (2.2-2.8 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.8 in (1.5-1.9 cm)
Incubation Period:13-14 days
Nestling Period:15-18 days
Egg Description:Pale blue-gray with sparse black spots.
Condition at Hatching:

Naked and helpless.

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Behavior Foliage Gleaner

Bohemian Waxwings don't defend breeding territories and don't often return to the same areas to breed, unlike many songbirds. This lack of territoriality is most likely the result of the ephemeral and clumped nature of the fruit they rely on. Perhaps because they don't defend territories, they also don't have a true song—songs that other birds use to defend territory. Bohemian Waxwings form monogamous pairs for the duration of the breeding season, but pairs frequently form during winter. Males court females by fluffing up body feathers, raising the crest, and pushing the tail downward. After grabbing a female's attention, the male passes food to the female and she passes it back to him. They continue to pass the food back and forth up to 14 times before mating. They are very social birds and form large flocks during the winter to help find fruits scattered across the landscape. Flocks often range from 50 to 300 birds, and can sometimes be in the thousands. American Robins and Cedar Waxwings sometimes join Bohemian Waxwing flocks.

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Conservation Low Concern

Bohemian Waxwings are common, but populations declined by 55% since 1970, according to Partners in Flight. The estimated global breeding population is 4.6 million. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List. Bohemian Waxwings are susceptible to window and car collisions because fruiting shrubs are often near buildings and roadways. Pesticide application on fruits they consume may also affect waxwings.

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Backyard Tips

Bohemian Waxwing's nomadic nature makes it difficult to predict if and when they might show up in your yard. But they are fruit connoisseurs, so planting a native tree or shrub that holds its fruit late into the fall and winter may bring in any that pass through your area. Learn more about creating bird friendly yards at Habitat Network.They may eat fruits and sometimes visit platform feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best with the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds tool.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Witmer, Mark C. (2002). Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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