North American birdwatchers can easily recognize these sociable, fruit-eating birds.

Physical Description

Cedar waxwings are medium-sized birds with plump bellies and smooth, shiny body feathers. Adults have pale brown heads with pointed crests and black mask over their eyes that is edged by a thin, white line. They have brown or gray wings, pale yellow undersides, and dark colored wings with brilliant red or orange waxy tips. Males and females have similar plumage. Young cedar waxwings take a year or two to develop their adult feather patterns, appearing mostly brown, creamy white and gray until they reach maturity.

Size

Adults are approximately 6–7 inches (15–18 centimeters) long and weigh about 1.1 ounces (32 grams). 

Native Habitat

They can be found in forests and wooded areas, forest edges, orchards and open clearings like farmlands and suburban backyards.  They are nomadic, following the availability of fruits, as opposed to migrating seasonally.

Lifespan

Up to eight years. 

Communication

Cedar waxwings make a series of high-pitched whistling calls, which they use to signal to other waxwings. They call frequently during flight and can be quite noisy.

Food/Eating Habits

Cedar waxwings primarily eat fruit and are often found near bushes or trees bearing small fruits, such as blueberry, dogwood, serviceberry, winterberry and juniper. They put the entire berry into their mouth and swallow it whole. They will also eat small insects like mayflies and dragonflies, which they snatch from the air mid-flight, often over water.

Sleep Habits

Cedar waxwings are active during the daytime and sleep at night. 

Social Structure

These birds are very sociable, often traveling in small flocks. They build their nests in loose clusters near other waxwings. When foraging, they can gather in flocks of up to hundreds of individuals, clustering around the same fruit trees to feed.

Reproduction and Development

Unlike many migratory birds that begin to build nests soon after they reach their breeding grounds, cedar waxwings time their reproductive cycle based on when summer-ripening fruits are most plentiful.

When males and females are ready to breed, they will perform courtship displays, in which the male hops around and dances in front of the female. Both birds will pass small objects back and forth to each other, like berries or flower petals.

Nests are mainly built by the female and are constructed by weaving twigs, grasses and soft materials like animal hair into a cup shape. Nests are typically placed in the fork of a horizontal branch and take five to six days to complete.

Females lay between two and six eggs, which are pale blue or bluish gray, and incubates them for 11 to 13 days. After the nestlings hatch, both parents help with feeding and care, until they are ready to leave the next after 14-18 days. Cedar waxwing pairs can have one to two broods per season.

Conservation Efforts

Populations in North America appear to be holding steady and are even increasing in some parts of their range. This is in part due to the conversion of former farmlands back into forests and shrublands, which are beneficial to the many species of birds that thrive in wooded areas. However, cedar waxwings are still vulnerable to common threats like window strikes and predation from other animals, such as hawks and domestic cats.

Help this Species

  • Be a smart consumer. Choose products made with sustainable ingredients, such as Smithsonian certified Bird Friendly coffees, which support farmers striving to limit their impact on wildlife and habitat.
  • Conservation starts with you! Join a citizen science project, such as FrogWatch or Neighborhood Nestwatch, where you can help collect valuable data for scientists. Encourage your friends and family to get involved too.
  • Plant native flowers in your garden to help feed resident and migrating pollinators. You'll make your lawn beautiful and help wildlife at the same time!
  • Share the story of this animal with others. Simply increasing awareness and educating others about the threats invasive species pose to local ecosystems can help protect native environments.

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