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A Closer Look: The Cedar Waxwing,
A Regular at Mother Nature's Fruit Bar

JPG of Cedar Waxwing    

Chris Grondahl
Photos by Darcy Kramlich

Originally published in:
North Dakota Outdoors
(November, 1999)

Official Publication of the
State Game and Fish Department
100 North Bismarck Expressway
Bismarck, North Dakota 58501-5095

This resource is based on the following source:
Grondahl, Chris.  1999.  A Closer Look: The Cedar Waxwing, A Regular 
     at Mother Nature's Fruit Bar. North Dakota Outdoors 62(4):16.
This resource should be cited as:
Grondahl, Chris.  1999.  A Closer Look: The Cedar Waxwing, A Regular 
     at Mother Nature's Fruit Bar. North Dakota Outdoors 62(4):16.  
     Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 06APR2000).

Return to A Closer Look Series
Look for cedar waxwings in mature trees often associated with water areas or near fruit plantings. Key in on mountain ash and flowering crabs during late fall and early spring, and you can usually find them in flocks busily eating "leftovers. " Don't be surprised if the birds have to "sleep it off" for a while.

The colorful cedar waxwing is certainly in the top ten of North Dakota's most beautiful songbirds. It is easily distinguished from other songbirds by its conspicuous brown crest that forms a point jutting out directly behind the head.

Other noticeable characteristics include a black facial mask, yellow band across the end of the tail feathers, and red ends on the secondary feathers of the wing. Like other common songbirds such as black-capped chickadee, nuthatch and pine siskin, both male and female waxwings are similarly colored. Adults grow to just over seven inches in length, with a wing span of 11-12 inches.

Cedar waxwings breed throughout North Dakota, but are most often noticed during winter and spring when migrating flocks methodically search for various persistent fruits that still cling to branches in back yards, gardens, parks and hedgerows. The birds' favorite fruits include mountain ash, flowering crab, high bush cranberry and Russian olive. Waxwings often gorge them- selves on these fermented fruits, sometimes causing a peculiar "drunken" behavior many times reported by concerned citizens. They also eat beetles, caterpillars, cankerworms, weevils, ants and other insects associated with trees.

Waxwings are found in North Dakota year-round and may only move into South Dakota to escape a severe winter. When birds that migrate return in spring they again eat berries left on bushes and trees.

Nesting begins in June. Nests are cup-shaped and formed with dry grass, twigs and weed stems, and lined with softer plant materials such as fine grass. Nests are often well out on horizontal limbs of both coniferous and deciduous trees, up to 50 feet above the ground, and usually near other nesting pairs.

The female incubates 3-5 pale blue eggs marked with black dots. Young are born 12-16 days after incubation begins.

A Close Relative
Another member of the bird family Bombycillidae, the Bohemian waxwing, is often confused with the cedar waxwing. The Bohemian is slightly larger and does not breed in North Dakota, but migrates here during winter if food availability and weather conditions in northern Canada, Alaska, and the Northwest Territories are not fit for its survival.

This Bohemian waxwing has a grayish belly rather than the brownish-yellow of the cedar waxwing. It also has white and yellow markings on the outer primaries which are absent on the cedar waxwing.

Chris Grondahl coordinates the Nongame and Watchable Wildlife Program for the Game and Fish Department.

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