Cedar waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum

SUBFAMILY

Bombycillinae

TAXONOMY

Bombycilla cedrorum Vieillot, 1808. Two subspecies (B. c. cedrorum and B. c. larifuga) are recognized by some researchers based on geographic variation in plumage.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Jaseur des cèdres; German: Zederseidenschwanz; Spanish: Ampelis Americano.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

6.1 in (15.5 cm), 1.1 oz (32 g). Smaller of two North American waxwings. Sleek, crested birds with small bill, overall plumage grayish brown with pale yellow belly. Adults have black face mask with white edge and black chin patch. Named for red, wax-like tips on the secondary flight feathers of many adults. Pointed wings, tail square with distinctive yellow band at tip. Female chin patch may be smaller and lighter colored. Red wax-tips absent and plumage more gray than brown in juveniles.

DISTRIBUTION

North to southeast Alaska, throughout Canadian provinces, east to Newfoundland, throughout United States and Central America to Panama, east to Bermuda, occasionally winters in West Indies and the Bahama Islands.

HABITAT

Uses various open woodland forests and old fields; avoids forest interior; also found in riparian areas of grasslands, farms, orchards, conifer plantations, and suburban gardens.

BEHAVIOR

Very social species, flocking throughout year. Rarely ventures to ground, frequent preening at high exposed sites. Nonterritorial, but may show aggressive behavior near nest. Short flights are direct with steady wing beats. Two basic calls; rapidly repeated buzzy or trilled high-pitch notes and high-pitched hissy whistles.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Diet consists mainly of fleshy fruits, but also includes insects caught in air or gleaned from vegetation. Forages in branches of fruiting trees, typically plucks fruit while grasping a branch. Fleshy, berry-like cones of cedar Juniperus spp.) historically dominated winter diet. In spring, this bird will hang from maple (Acer spp.) branches to feed on suspended drops of sap. Instances have been recorded of cedar waxwings becoming drunk from alcohol in overripe fruits. This often results in them falling to the ground, hitting windows, being hit by vehicles, and dying from injuries.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Appears to be monogamous within a breeding season. Among latest-nesting birds in North America, apparently cued to midsummer ripening of fruit. Lays two to six sparsely spotted pale blue-gray eggs, in woven cup-like nest. Female incubates, 12-15 days. One to two broods per season. Young hatch naked and blind; both parents feed nestlings. Fledge 14-17 days. Occasional brood parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater).

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. No conservation measures have been taken for cedar waxwings and none appear needed. Sharp population increases occurred in late 1970s, in apparent rebound from elimination of DDT in agriculture and increase in edge habitats conducive to fruit-bearing shrubs.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Commonly killed by hitting windows, perhaps because many ornamental fruit-bearing shrubs are planted near homes. ♦

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