Bombycilla cedrorumcedar waxwing

Geographic Range

Cedar waxwings (Bombycillia cedrorum) are found only in North America. Their breeding range extends throughout the southern half of Canada and the northern half of the United States. The winter range includes the United States, Mexico and Central America as far south as Panama. They also winter in the Caribbean region. Many birds in the northern United States and extreme southern Canada are year-round residents.

Vagrant cedar waxwings are occasionally seen in Iceland and Great Britain. (Witmer, et al., 1997)


Cedar waxwings nest in open woodlands (deciduous, coniferous and mixed) or oldfield habitats. They prefer habitats with numerous small trees and shrubs for nesting and food. They frequently inhabit riparian areas, which provide nesting shrubs and trees, fruits and emerging aquatic insects, but also use farms, orchards, conifer plantations, and suburban gardens. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Physical Description

Cedar waxwings are sleek birds with silky plumage. They are approximately 15.5 cm in length and weigh about 32 g. Adults have a grayish-brown plumage with pale yellow on the breast and belly. The secondary wing feathers are tipped with red wax-like droplets, and the tail is square with a bright yellow band at the tip. Cedar waxwings have a crest and a black mask edged with white.

Male and female waxwings are similar in appearance, but males have a slightly darker chin patch. Females may also be slightly heavier than males during the breeding season. Juvenile cedar waxwings look similar to adults, but are greyer overall, have streaking on their underparts and a much smaller crest and lack the red tips on their secondary feathers. (Robbins, et al., 1966; Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Average mass
    32 g
    1.13 oz
  • Average mass
    30 g
    1.06 oz
  • Average length
    15.5 cm
    6.10 in


Cedar waxwings are monogamous within each breeding season. Males court females by doing a hopping dance and passing pieces of fruit, flower petals or insects to their potential mate. If the female is interested in the male, she reciprocates the hopping and passes the item back to the male. This sequence may be repeated many times. After pairs form, the female chooses the nest site. Pairs form beginning in spring, and the birds typically nest and breed from June through August. If the first breeding attempt is successful, the pair usually stays together for a second brood. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Cedar waxwings breed between June and August. A pair may raise one or two broods during a single breeding season. The female lays 2 to 5 eggs (usually 4 or 5), one per day in early morning. She incubates the eggs for 11 to 13 days (usually 12). The altricial chicks are blind, weak, and naked. They remain in the nest for 14 to 18 days (average 15 days) before venturing out on short flights near the nest. Parents continue to feed the young for 6 to 10 days after they fledge. As early as three or four days after leaving the nest, young waxwings may form flocks with other young from nearby nests. They mature in these flocks and may breed the next summer. (University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, 2000; Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Breeding interval
    Cedar waxwings raise one or two broods each year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in spring and early summer.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
    4 or 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 13 days
  • Range fledging age
    14 to 18 days
  • Average fledging age
    15 days
  • Range time to independence
    6 to 10 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Female cedar waxwings incubate the eggs and brood the chicks for the first 9 days after hatching. During incubation, the male brings food to the female. He also perches in a high exposed place to guard the nest and alert females to the presence of predators. The male and female provide food to the chicks during the hatchling stage and for up to 10 days after fledging. Both parents maintain sanitary conditions in the nest by removing fecal sacks of the chicks and either eating them or dropping them outside the nest. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The oldest known cedar waxwing lived 7 years in the wild. (Witmer, et al., 1997)


Cedar waxwings are nomadic. Flocks of cedar waxwings move from place to place throughout the year, except during the breeding season. Some populations are also migratory. Cedar waxwings are very social. They travel in flocks, and do not defend a territory, even during the breeding season. There may be some social hierarchy within flocks of cedar waxwings, but this has not been studied. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Average territory size
    0 km^2

Home Range

The home range size of cedar waxwings is unknown. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Communication and Perception

Cedar waxwings communicate using vocal and physical signals. They produce several calls that are variations of either rapidly repeated buzzy high-pitched notes or high-pitched hissy whistles. These calls can communicate hunger, anxiety, well-being and a number of other messages. They are produced by male and female adults as well as chicks. Cedar waxwings also communicate using physical displays. For example, they may communicate anxiety by raising the crest on their heads. They can signal that they are feeling threatened by opening their mouths and ruffling their feathers. Females usually display this behavior to signal rejection of a male's attempt at courtship. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Food Habits

During the winter, cedar waxwings eat fruit almost exclusively. They rely heavily on cedar berries, especially in the northern part of their range. The birds take the fruit from the tree by holding on to a branch and plucking it off with their beaks. They do this sitting upright or dangling upside-down. They also can remove the fruit from the tree while hovering. Cedar waxwings also eat the fruits of other shrubs that retain berries in winter, such as hollies.

During the summer months, cedar waxwings switch to eating mostly insects. Often, the waxwings will catch their prey by congregating around ponds and streams and waiting for the insects to emerge from the water. Most of the time, they snatch their prey right out of the air. They also glean bark and forage through tree branches for insects. (University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, 2000; Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Known predators of adult cedar waxwings include merlins, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, common grackles and bullfrogs, which attack the waxwings as they drink from stock ponds. Blue jays are known predators of nestlings and house wrens have been observed eating waxwing eggs.

Cedar waxwings may respond to a threat by assuming an erect posture, apparently to make themselves more cryptic. If flying together in a flock, they may crowd together and fly in specific formations to evade pursuers. During the incubation and the nestling periods, males guard the nest and give a warning call when predators approach. Parents whose nest is threatened may try to distract the predator by flying away from the nest in a zig-zag path, or by diving at the predator. Unlike many other small bird species, cedar waxwings are not known to mob large predators. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Ecosystem Roles

Cedar waxwings disperse seeds of the plants that they eat while eating the berries and through defecation. They also affect populations of the insects that they eat. Finally, cedar waxwings host external parasites, including feather mites and hippoboscid flies. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Cedar waxwings eat insects that some people consider to be pests. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Cedar waxwings eat some economically valuable fruit crops.

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Cedar waxwings are common throughout their range, and have increased in number over the past several decades. This population increase is probably due in part to the increase in fruiting trees and shrubs as agricultural lands revert to forest.

Cedar waxwings are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. They are not protected under CITES or the U.S. Endangered Species Act. (Witmer, et al., 1997)

Other Comments

Bombycillia cedrorum is one of only three species of waxwing in the family of Bombycillidae. The other two species are found in North America (Bohemian waxwing) and Japan (Japanese waxwing). ()


Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Laura Klein (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Kerry Yurewicz (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1966. Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Inc.

University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, 2000. "Species Description: Cedar Waxwing" (On-line). Georgia Wildlife Web. Accessed 03/23/08 at

Witmer, M., D. Mountjoy, L. Elliot. 1997. Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). Pp. 1-28 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 309. Philadelphia, PA: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington DC: The American Ornithologists Union.