Illustration: Cedar waxwing

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt


Map: Cedar waxwing range


The cedar waxwing is easily found in open habitat where there are berries. It times its nesting to coincide with summer berry production, putting it among the latest of North American birds to nest. It is highly gregarious; flocks of hundreds, occasionally thousands, are encountered during migration and winter. Polytypic. Length 7.3" (8 cm).

Identification Smaller than the bohemian waxwing, with pale yellow belly and whitish undertail coverts. Tip of tail usually yellow, broadest in adult males, narrowest in immature females. Some birds (especially immatures) have an orange tail tip, a result of consuming non-native honeysuckle fruit during molt. The male’s chin has extensive amount of black that extends onto throat; the female’s chin is dull or brownish black. First-winter males and adult females can be similar. Juvenile: streaky below with white chin and bold malar stripe (June–November).

Geographic Variation Two subspecies. Western larifuga averages paler with grayer (less reddish) breast than eastern cedrorum, but the differences are weak and clinal.

Similar Species The bo­hemian waxwing is similar but larger, grayer, has ru­fous undertail co­verts, white bar on primary coverts and chestnut wash on face. A juvenile ce­­dar can be separated from a bo­he­mian by its lack of white wing patches, and lack of any rufous on undertail coverts.

Voice Call: commonly a high trilled zeeeee, higher and less trilled than the bohemian waxwing’s. Also a long, high, pure seeeee; and a shorter descending sweeew, longer than analogous call of bohemian. Does not sing.

Status and Distribution Common. Breeding: open woodlands and old fields. Migration: In spring in much of east and central U.S. it peaks February–March and May–early June. Fall peak in northern United States September–October; in Georgia early October–December. Winter: irregular. Southern United States to Central America, rarely to Panama.

Population Increasing, likely due in part to spread of exotic fruiting plants. Vagrant: Central Alaska, Yukon, Iceland, United Kingdom.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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