Bohemian Waxwing Life History

Habitat

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

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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Nesting

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

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

Conservation Low Concern

Bohemian Waxwings are common, and Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population at 5 million, but populations in North America declined by 55% since 1970. Partners in Flight rates the species 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and included Bohemian Waxwing on the list of Common Birds in Steep Decline. These species are too numerous or widely distributed to warrant Watch-List status but are experiencing troubling long-term declines. 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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Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. 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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