Bird Database

Cedar Waxwing

(Bombycilla cedrorum)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Predation, collisions

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Cedar Waxwing

(Bombycilla cedrorum)

of their lives, including migration and breeding, are timed to take advantage of seasonal availability of fruit, and they only consume significant numbers of insects in spring and summer when fruit is relatively scarce. During the non-breeding season, waxwings gather in large flocks (often a hundred or more) and wander widely in search of concentrations of food. When a flock discovers a food source they will settle down until the fruit is consumed, and then move on. As a result their occurrence is unpredictable outside the breeding season, as shown by the winter data on the trend graph. In contrast, breeding populations have been relatively stable over the last 50 years.

No matter where they were over the winter, waxwings return to most of New Hampshire in mid-to-late May in preparation for breeding. This is the time of year when insects are most important since few plants are producing fruit. Even then fruit drives much of their behavior. For instance, waxwings are not strongly territorial like other songbirds, presumably because large concentrations of berries are not easily defended. They even delay nesting until July and August so that fruit is more abundant to feed their young. And because young birds are fed primarily fruit, waxwings are a poor-host for the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird. Most cowbird eggs are rejected outright by waxwings, but if they survive to hatching the fruit-heavy diet is insufficient for cowbird growth and there are no records of waxwings raising cowbird chicks to fledging.

No discussion of waxwings would be complete without a nod to the waxy tips on their wing feathers for which they are named. Although the true function of these structures is not known, their size and number increase with a bird’s age, and they may thus serve a purpose in mate selection. Another interesting note on waxwing plumage is related to the yellow tip to their tail feathers. In parts of the Northeast you may find birds with an orange tip, a result of red pigments in non-native honeysuckle berries that are incorporated into the feathers if consumed in large enough quantities. 

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Cedar Waxwing
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count