Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorium


The Cedar Waxwing is a common but irregular bird in any habitat where fruit and other foods such as tree buds, flowers and insects are found. They are a migratory woodland bird breeding across Canada and USA as far south as Mexico, wintering in the southern portion of their range. They are plump Sparrow-sized fly-catching and fruit eating birds with an upright stature, soft cinnamon colors and silky plumage with distinctive waxy red tips on wing secondaries and a yellow terminal tail band. They were named for the red wax-like tips on wing.
In summer the Cedar Waxwings are rather inconspicuous, often heard before seen but after breeding season they flock together and travel in flocks of 40 or more incessantly calling, turning and twisting in flight, frequently alighting in the same tree.


General: Medium sized bird with large head, short neck and short wide bill 17-20 cm long with wing span approx. 30cm and weighs about 32 grams. They are trim, crested bird with silky brownish red plumage with black mask and chin, yellow belly, white undertail coverts and yellow terminal tail band. There is little or no white on wings.
The oldest known Cedar Waxwing was 8 years, 2 months old.

Adult Male: Both male and female show waxy red tips on wing secondaries. Adult males have stronger mask and chin markings.
Adult Female: similar marking to adult male
Juvenile: Juveniles have indistinct grey streaked breast, in general have a duller greyer appearance.

Similar Species: Bohemian Waxwing has white and yellow wing markings and a rust red vent area. They are larger and heavier than the cedar Waxwings and are not as reddish coloured.

Behaviour: In summer inconspicuous but after breeding season flock up, known for their dazzling aeronautics In summer you’re as likely to find them flitting about over rivers in pursuit of flying insects and winter flocks turn and twist in synchronized flight before alighting in the same tree. They will occasionally become intoxicated if they ingest overripe fruit that has started to ferment.

Habitat: Cedar Waxwings are usually found in mixed forests and edges where their favourite foods of berries and insects are found. They are found in the proximity to humans as there is usually an abundance of berries in the Orchards and city parks.


Nesting: Cedar Waxwings nest in both rural and urban environments. Often this is in close proximity to humans, perhaps because of the greater likelihood of finding fruits or berries when needed. Most arrive on their breeding ground in late May and early June. Autumn departure is usually in late August and September, but if rearing second broods, may be into October
The nest consists of a loose configuration of twigs and grass woven onto a horizontal branch and bolstered with mosses and lichens. 3 – 6 blue-grey dotted eggs are usual. The cedar waxwing is the latest bird to initiate nesting as they time it to have ripe fruit for nestlings.
Voice: Often heard before they are seen their call is a high sibilant see-e-e , sometimes lightly trilled.

Conservation Status:

Cedar Waxwing populations are increasing throughout their range, in part because of reversion of fields to shrublands and forests and the use of berry trees such as mountain ash in landscaping. Cedar Waxwings do appear to be vulnerable to window collisions as well as being struck by cars as the birds feed on fruiting trees along roadsides.
Capture Rates

Capture rates of Cedar Waxwing (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) peak in late spring through summer (May - September). Prominent fruit eaters, high numbers of waxwings were caught in June corresponding to the peak of fruiting shrubs like elderberry at Colony Farm. Cedar Waxwing are medium distance migrants, moving south for the winter as seen by our zero capture rate between October - April.


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