SIB “Bird of the Week” – Cedar Waxwing

Happy New Year from your friends at SIB!

Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
Length:  7.25″; Wingspan: 12″; Weight: 1.1 oz.

I just love Cedar Waxwings and they are one of my very favorite birds!  They are such a cool looking bird with that sleek brown crest that often lies flat over the back of the head.  Waxwings  are medium-sized gregarious birds that are silky brownish overall with a pale yellowish belly and white under its tail coverts.  Cedar Waxwings acquired their name as the adults have wax-like red droplets on the tips of their secondary feathers.  It looks like someone dipped these feathers in hot red wax. Their somewhat short, square tail has a bright yellow band at the tip and they have short broad bills with a slight hook for gripping and swallowing large berries. These “Batman” looking birds have black masks edged in white and a black chin patch.

Males and females look alike, however, immature Waxwings have lots of brown streaking on their chests, much smaller crests, no black chin patch and no black “Batman” mask.

Cedar Waxwings are very sociable birds and almost always travel in flocks while in search of berries. Flocks of these birds will suddenly appear in an area, stripping trees and bushes of the berries and then vanish quickly when the crop is exhausted.  In the winter and fall they feed on dogwoods, pokeweed, grape, mountain ash and apple.  One of their favorite foods is a juniper called the Eastern Red-cedar.  In the summer they eat strawberries, mulberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries and honeysuckle.  They also eat protein rich insects including mayflies, dragonflies, stoneflies and flower petals and sap.  Their insect catching behavior mimics a flycatcher as they leap off branches to grab insects in flight.

Cedar Waxwings inhabit deciduous, coniferous, and mixed woodlands and like to nest in brushy areas near streams.  Scientists have discovered that Waxwings select mates of similar ages. During courtship males often pass a small item like a fruit, insect, or flower petal, to the female. After taking the fruit, the female usually hops away and then returns giving back the item to the male. They repeat this a few times untilthe female eats the gift.

Waxwings build cup-like nests in the fork of high tree branches.  The nests are constructed of twigs and grasses and lined with finer materials such as animal hair, pine needles, spider webs or moss.  Both sexes gather nesting material however the female does most of the nest construction. It takes 5-6 days to construct the nest and may take up to 2500, yes this isn’t a misprint, 2500 individual trips to the nest to build it.

Cedar Waxwings lay 4-5 eggs and incubation by the female happens in 12-14 days and the pair often nest twice in the summer.  Most Waxwings breed at 1 year old and they breed later than other birds as they time the hatching when there is a good supply of berries to feed their young. Adult Waxwings have a pouch in their throat and may regurgitate as many as thirty choke cherries at one time into their young bird’s mouths.  It has been said that Waxwings sometimes becomes intoxicated from eating fermented berries in winter.

Experts have seen several Waxwings sitting in a row passing a berry or insect from one to the other up and down the row until finally one bird decides to swallow it.

Waxwings are here on Seabrook Island in the winter, you just have to be on alert to hear their high pitched call. Most times you will hear Waxwings before you see them.  Once you get accustomed to their call you will be able to pick them out often.

Please watch the video below for a good overview of these fabulous birds!

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Flo Foley
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad & Charles Moore

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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