Scientific Name: Bombycilla cedrorum
Description: Cedar waxwings are crested birds with pale to lemon yellow bellies and a matching band of yellow at the tip of the square tail. The rest of the plumage is gray to brown. A black mask edged in white extends from their beak and surrounds the eyes. Waxy red tips on the secondary wing feathers complete their appearance. The purpose of the waxy red secretions—which gives them the name “waxwing”—is unknown. Males and females generally look alike with the exception of darker colored chins on the males.
Size: Cedar waxwings are 6 to 8 inches in length with a 12 inch wingspan. They weigh about an ounce.
Diet: Insects are consumed in summer, but these birds specialize in fruit-eating during the winter months. Cedar berries are the most popular food source, but other fruits are also consumed. Cedar waxwings pluck berries while perching, hanging upside down, or briefly hovering in midair. Unlike most fruit-eating birds that regurgitate seeds, cedar waxwings digest the entire fruit, and seeds are eventually dispersed in their feces. Occasionally they consume too much over ripened fruit, which leads to intoxication and death.
Predation: Merlins (a member of the falcon genus), hawks, and common grackles are predators of adult cedar waxwings. Additionally, adults sometimes fall victim to bullfrogs when they drink from ponds. Blue jays and house wrens consume juveniles and eggs.
Typical Lifespan: Both males and females reach reproductive maturity at 1 year and live up to 8 years in the wild.
Habitat: Cedar waxwings occupy a variety of habitats from deciduous and evergreen woodlands to orchards to suburban parks and backyards.
Range: Cedar waxwings are found year round mostly in the northern half of the United States. Non-breeding winter populations are found from the Midwest and southern states down through Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and the northwestern reaches of Columbia. Summer breeding populations are found from British Columbia, across Canada to Maine.
Life History and Reproduction: Adult cedar waxwings form monogamous bonds during each breeding season. The courtship ritual begins when a male dances for a female and gives her fruit, flower petals, or insects. If the female is interested, the gift is passed back and forth several times until the female eventually eats it. Afterward, the female takes the lead on choosing a nest site and constructing the nest. The pair produces one to two clutches from June to August. The male stays with the female while she incubates the eggs, bringing her food and guarding against predators. The young are ready to permanently leave the nest at about 25 days after hatching, at which point they form flocks of their own. Cedar waxwings are highly social and communicate with other members of the flock using noises and physical displays.
Fun Fact: Some cedar waxwings have orange tail tips instead of yellow. This is not a normal color variation. Rather, the fruit of an introduced species of honeysuckle is known to cause cedar waxwings to grow orange-tipped tail feathers.
Conservation Status: Cedar waxwing numbers have been increasing for a number of years, partly due to the use of berry-producing trees in landscaping and the conversion of agricultural land to forest. Additionally, they are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
IUCN Red List
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web