North American birdwatchers can easily recognize these sociable, fruit-eating birds.
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.
Adults are approximately 6–7 inches (15–18 centimeters) long and weigh about 1.1 ounces (32 grams).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.