The Cedar waxwing is a member of the waxwing family of passerine birds. It is a medium-sized, mostly brown, gray, and yellow bird named for its wax-like wingtips. It is a native of North and Central America. These birds' most prominent feature is this small cluster of red wax-like droplets on tips of secondary flight feathers on the wings, a feature they share with the Bohemian waxwing. The tail is typically yellow or orange depending on diet. Males and females look alike.
Cedar waxwings breed in southern Canada and winter in the southern half of the United States, Central America, and the far northwest of South America. Their preferred habitat consists of trees at the edge of wooded areas, or "open" forests, especially those that provide access to berry sources as well as water. They are frequently seen in fruiting trees. In urban or suburban environments, waxwings often favor parkland with well-spaced trees; golf courses, cemeteries, or other landscaping with well-spaced trees; bushes that provide berries; and a nearby water source such as a fountain or birdbath. Also look for them near farms, orchards, and gardens, particularly ones with fruiting trees or shrubs.
Cedar waxwings are sociable non-territorial birds that are seen in flocks year-round. Outside the breeding season, they often feed in large flocks numbering hundreds of birds. Cedar waxwings are nomadic and irruptive and will move in huge numbers if berry supplies are low. They move from place to place depending on where they can find good sources of berries. Cedar waxwings are attracted to the sound of running water and love to bathe in and drink from shallow creeks. They also frequently spend time grooming each other in order to keep their soft silky plumage healthy. These birds feed by day plucking berries in fruiting trees; they eat berries whole. They sometimes fly over water to catch insects. Cedar waxwings communicate with each other vocally; they call often, especially in flight. Their two common calls include very high-pitched whistles and buzzy trills often represented as 'see' or 'sree'. Their call can also be described as "high, thin, whistles."
Cedar waxwings are herbivores (frugivores) and carnivores (insectivores). They eat berries and sugary fruit year-round, including dogwood, strawberry, mulberry, raspberry, serviceberry, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, and winterberry. Insects become an important part of their diet mainly in the breeding season.
Cedar waxwings are serially monogamous; they form bonds that last only during one breeding season which begins around the end of spring and runs through late summer. The male will do a "hopping dance" for the female. If she is interested, she'll hop back. During courtship, the male and female will sit together and pass small objects back and forth, such as flower petals or an insect. Mating pairs will sometimes rub their beaks together affectionately. The nest is a loose open cup built with grass and twigs, lined with softer materials, and supported by a tree branch averaging 2 to 6 m (6.6 to 19.7 ft) above ground. Usually, 5 or 6 eggs are laid and the female incubates them for 11 to 13 days. The eggs are oval-shaped with a smooth surface and very little, if any, gloss. The eggshells are of various shades of light or bluish grey with irregular, dark brown spots or greyish-brown splotches. Both parents feed the young and typically raise one or two broods during the breeding season. The chicks are born naked, blind, and helpless. They leave the nest about 14 to 18 days after hatching and usually form flocks with fledglings from neighboring nests.
Cedar waxwings are considered globally threatened. However, they do sometimes crash into windows, and get hit by cars while foraging along roadsides.
According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of the Cedar waxwing is 52 million birds. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are increasing.
Cedar waxwings play an important role in their ecosystem through dispersing seeds of various fruit species they feed on. These birds are also sometimes responsible for significant damage to commercial fruit farms and thus can be considered a pest, especially because they forage in large groups.