Celebrate Urban Birds
Living Bird Magazine
Cedar WaxwingBombycilla cedrorum
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Bombycillidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Ampelis Americano (Spanish)
- Jaseur d'Amérique (French)
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.
This species often comes backyards if food is offered. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
Bird-friendly Winter Gardens, Birdsleuth, 2016.
- Cool Facts
- The name "waxwing" comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of the secondaries of some birds. The exact function of these tips is not known, but they may help attract mates.
- Cedar Waxwings with orange instead of yellow tail tips began appearing in the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada in the 1960s. The orange color is the result of a red pigment picked up from the berries of an introduced species of honeysuckle. If a waxwing eats enough of the berries while it is growing a tail feather, the tip of the feather will be orange.
- The Cedar Waxwing is one of the few North American birds that specializes in eating fruit. It can survive on fruit alone for several months. Brown-headed Cowbirds that are raised in Cedar Waxwing nests typically don’t survive, in part because the cowbird chicks can’t develop on such a high-fruit diet.
- Many birds that eat a lot of fruit separate out the seeds and regurgitate them, but the Cedar Waxwing lets them pass right through. Scientists have used this trait to estimate how fast waxwings can digest fruits.
- Because they eat so much fruit, Cedar Waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol.
- Building a nest takes a female Cedar Waxwing 5 to 6 days and may require more than 2,500 individual trips to the nest. They occasionally save time by taking nest materials from other birds’ nests, including nests of Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow-throated Vireos, orioles, robins, and Yellow Warblers.
- The oldest recorded Cedar Waxwing was a male and at least 7 years, 1 month old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Maryland in 2014. He had been banded in the same state in 2008.