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Cedar Waxwing Life History


Open WoodlandsCedar Waxwings inhabit deciduous, coniferous, and mixed woodlands, particularly areas along streams. You may also find them in old fields, grasslands, sagebrush, and even along desert washes. With the spread of ornamental berry trees in landscaping, Cedar Waxwings are increasingly common in towns and suburbs. In winter, Cedar Waxwings are most abundant around fruiting plants in open woodlands, parks, gardens, forest edges, and second-growth forests. Birds that winter in the tropics tend to inhabit highlands.Back to top


FruitCedar Waxwings feed mainly on fruits year-round. In summer, they feed on fruits such as serviceberry, strawberry, mulberry, dogwood, and raspberries. The birds’ name derives from their appetite for cedar berries in winter; they also eat mistletoe, madrone, juniper, mountain ash, honeysuckle, crabapple, hawthorn, and Russian olive fruits. In summer Cedar Waxwings supplement their fruit diet with protein-rich insects including mayflies, dragonflies, and stoneflies, often caught on the wing. They also pick items such as scale insects, spruce budworm, and leaf beetles directly from vegetation.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeCedar Waxwing pairs look for nest sites together, but the female makes the decision. She typically chooses the fork of a horizontal branch, anywhere from 3 to 50 feet high. Many tree species are used, including maples, pines, red cedar, white cedar, apple, pear, hawthorn, and bur oak. Sometimes waxwings put their nests in vertical forks, vine tangles, or resting on a single horizontal branch.

Nest Description

Female waxwings do almost all the nest building; males may do some construction for the second nest of a season. The female weaves twigs, grasses, cattail down, blossoms, string, horsehair, and similar materials into a bulky cup about 5 inches across and 3 inches high. She lines this cup with fine roots, grasses, and pine needles and may decorate the outside with fruiting grasses or oak and hickory catkins. Construction takes 5 to 6 days and may require more than 2,500 individual trips to the nest. Waxwings occasionally save time by taking nest materials from other birds’ nests, including Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow-throated Vireos, orioles, robins, and Yellow Warblers.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6-1.1 in (1.6-2.9 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.7 in (1.4-1.8 cm)
Incubation Period:11-13 days
Nestling Period:14-18 days
Egg Description:Pale blue or blue gray sometimes spotted with black or gray.
Condition at Hatching:Naked, blind, helpless, weak, and quiet. Hatchlings weigh about 3.1 grams, or a little more than one-tenth of an ounce.
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Foliage GleanerCedar Waxwings are social birds that form large flocks and often nest in loose clusters of a dozen or so nests. When feeding on fruits, Cedar Waxwings pluck them one by one and swallow the entire thing at once. They typically feed while perched on a twig, but they’re also good at grabbing berries while hovering briefly just below a bunch. When eating insects, waxwings either fly out from an exposed perch, or make long, zig-zagging flights over water. During courtship, males and females hop towards each other, alternating back and forth and sometimes touching their bills together. Males often pass a small item like a fruit, insect, or flower petal, to the female. After taking the fruit, the female usually hops away and then returns giving back the item to the male. They repeat this a few times until, typically, the female eats the gift. Cedar Waxwings have a strong, steady flight style with fairly constant wingbeats.Back to top


Low Concern

Cedar Waxwing populations were stable between 1966 and 2019, and in some areas showed increases, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 64 million and rates them 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. The increases in Cedar Waxwing populations are probably in part because of reversion of fields to shrublands and forests and the use of berry trees such as mountain ash in landscaping. Cedar Waxwings are vulnerable to window collisions as well as being struck by cars as the birds feed on fruiting trees along roadsides.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

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

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., D. J. Mountjoy and L. Elliot. (2014). Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), 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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