What is a Cedar Waxwing?

S. Ashraf
S. Ashraf

The cedar waxwing is a small bird that belongs to the songbird family of Bombycillidae. Found only in North America, cedar waxwings have a length ranging from 6.5 to 8 inches (16.5 to 20 cm), have a wingspan of about 11 to 12.25 inches (28 to 31 cm) and, on average, weigh 1.1 ounces (31 g). In appearance, the cedar waxwing is grayish-brown on its upper side but is a pale yellow-green on its abdomen and sides. Distinctively, it has a tapering crest on the top of its head, bright wax-like red spots on its wings and a brilliant yellow band at the end of its tail.

Cedar waxwings are found in a variety of habitats, although they tend to prefer locations with shrubs and fruit-bearing trees. They live in inhabited areas as well as in open, sparsely inhabited areas. These birds like coniferous or deciduous woodlands, grasslands, desert washes and even sagebrush. Increasingly, the cedar waxwing is found in urban areas.

Geographically, cedar waxwings are distributed throughout North America. During the summer breeding season, they may be found throughout the northern half of the United States and the southern half of Canada. In winter, the range expands to include the southern U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Cedar waxwings are social, nomadic birds that form large flocks and wander from one location to another.

Breeding season is the only time that the cedar waxwing remains in the same area. Pairs of cedar waxwings look for a nesting site together, but the female has the final decision. The nests are built by the female in a branch of a large shrub or tree. Nests take five or six days to build and might involve making more than 2,500 trips as grasses, pine needles and small roots are collected and woven together. Clutch sizes are from two to six eggs, and they incubate for 11 to 13 days before hatching, after which both parents feed the nestlings.

Although some insects are eaten during summer, sugary fruits dominate the diet of both adult and juvenile cedar waxwings for most of the year. Cedar waxwings are one of the few birds in North America that specialize in eating fruit; they can live on fruit alone for several months. It eats so much fruit that a cedar waxwing can die or become intoxicated when it consumes overripe fruit that has begun to ferment and produce alcohol. The cedar waxwing gets its name from its fondness for eating cedar berries during the winter.

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