Cedar Waxwings have grayish-brown colored bodies with small groups of bright red waxy deposits at the tips of their wing feathers. The tips of their tails are a bright yellow or orange color. There is a small crest of feathers on top of the head, and a black mask edged with white around the eyes. Males and females are similar in appearance. The belly of an adult is a pale yellow color. Juveniles lack this yellow coloring, have smaller crests atop their heads, and no red wing tips.
Cedar Waxwings measure 6-7 inches in length with a wingspan of 9-12 inches. They weigh about 1 ounce (28 g).
- Waxwings have an unusually large liver, which helps them process all of the sugar contained in the fruit they consume.
- Food moves quickly through a Cedar Waxwing’s digestive system. This is important because birds can suffer from alcohol intoxication if fermented fruit stays in their bodies for a long period of time.
- Cedar Waxwings often form large flocks to search for food. This helps them to find berry patches more efficiently.
Cedar Waxwings are frugivores (fruit eaters) which consume fruits and berries. In the breeding season, insects become part of their diet as well. At Cosley Zoo, the Cedar Waxwing’s diet consists of fruits, spinach, sunflower seeds, a processed insectivore (insect-eater) diet, and mealworms.
Cedar Waxwings wait until late in the season to nest, often laying their eggs between June and August in order to take advantage of the plentiful fruits and berries available to feed their young. Cedar Waxwings build nests of grass and twigs. Both sexes participate in the building of the nest. The female lays a clutch (group of eggs) of 5-6 eggs at a time and sits on them for about 12 days before they hatch. Young birds leave the nest 14-18 days after they hatch. Cedar Waxwings raise two broods per season, with the second brood being raised immediately after the first.
Shelter and Space Needs
Cedar Waxwings prefer a wooded edge, where there is a good source of berries as well as water. In the winter, they will move around until they find a food source. Sometimes they will travel to the southern states, but the birds can also be found in the Midwest in the winter if there is a plentiful food supply available.
Cedar Waxwings can live up to 7 years in captivity. Their longevity in the wild is uncertain.
Relationship With Man
Cedar Waxwings are popular with birdwatchers and play an important role in helping to disperse the seeds of the fruit they eat. They are protected by the US Migratory Bird Act, which makes it illegal to possess these birds or their nests, eggs, or feathers without a permit.
- The tip of a Cedar Waxwing’s tail is bright yellow or orange, depending on its diet. Birds that eat a certain type of honeysuckle berry while they are growing their tail feathers will have orange feather tips.
- During courtship, a male and female bird will sit together passing food items back and forth between their bills.
- If there is a large supply of berries at the end of a twig, a flock of Cedar Waxwings lines up along a branch and passes berries down the line so that each bird gets some.
- The name “waxwing” comes from the waxy red feathers at the tips of the wings.