Cedar Waxwing

Common Name: Cedar Waxwing

Class:  Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Bombycillidae

Genus: Bombycilla

Species: Bombycilla cedrorum

photo M. Noonan

 

Taxonomy/Description

 

The Cedar Waxwing is one of three species that make up the Waxwing family – Bombycillidae – and is the only Waxwing that can be found in Western New York year-round.  Two features shared by the three species of this family of birds include a prominent crest and a striking face mask.  The Cedar Waxwing’s Latin name, Bombycilla cedrorum, can be translated to mean “silk wagtail of the cedars.”  In other words, these sleek silky looking birds have an affinity for the cedar trees, and can often be found with its tail in motion.  The Cedar Waxwing can be distinguished from the Japanese Waxwing by habitat alone, but also by spotting its bright yellow tail tip.  The Cedar Waxwing has a mostly tan head and upper body, a dull yellow belly and flanks, and a grey lower back, wings, and tail.  Its pale belly distinguishes it from the Bohemian Waxwing, which is a slightly darker bird.  The Cedar Waxwing shows red tips on some of its wing tips, while the Bohemian Waxwing also displays yellow and white on its wings.  These red waxy tips are how the Waxwings get their name.  As a bird ages, more red tips are seen.

 


photo Ivan Andrijevic

 

Habitat/Diet

 

Cedar Waxwings can be found throughout the northern half of the United States and the southern most portion of Canada, from the east coast to the west coast, year-round.  During the summer, they also migrate further north into Canada, as far as the northern border of Saskatchewan.  During the winter, they will migrate and be found in the southern half of the United States, from coast to coast, and throughout Central America.  Usually Cedar Waxwings will make their homes in open woodlands within these ranges.  Much of the time, nearby their nest will be some sort of open water.  They rely mainly on fruit for food, and when fruit is not available, insects become a large part of their diet.

 

Behavior/Reproduction

 

Cedar Waxwings are extremely social birds, and they often live in large groups.  They do not display many signs of territoriality, with the exception of males towards other Cedar Waxwings when the male’s mate is in/near the nest with him.  This behavior is especially seen during nest building and egg laying periods.  During the breeding season, Cedar Waxwings will create pair bonds, and mating pairs will remain together for the entire nesting season.  They often raise two broods per season, each clutch an average of 4 eggs.  It is not known whether Cedar Waxwings remain together year after year or mate for life.  The amount of time it takes for eggs to hatch varies tremendously within Cedar Waxwings, however, after hatching it takes an average of 16 days for the hatchlings to leave the nest.

 


photo Ivan Andrijevic

 

Where to see them in WNY

 

Because Cedar Waxwings depend so heavily on fruit for their food, looking in fruit bearing trees and bushes for feeding birds would be wise.  Also, they sometimes make appearances in orchards.  During the breeding season, males can often be found perching high above the nest; this may be a good way to spot a nearby nest.

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