Even where it is common, the Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum, always elicits excitement among birders. Widely considered to be one of the USA’s most beautiful birds, captives tame readily and have achieved some popularity among European hobbyists. Those I’ve kept have provided many fond memories and interesting observations.
This 6-inch-long bird has a unique look that can be described as “sleek, silky and shiny”. It is clad in muted shades of brown, gray and lemon-yellow, and sports a jaunty crest, bold black eye mask and striking scarlet-red wing tips.
The “cedar” part of the name is derived from a favored food, the berries of the Redcedar, while “waxwing” refers to the waxy secretions (which may function in mate attraction) that tip some wing feathers.
These unusual birds are one of only three members of the family Bombycillidae. Included also is the Bohemian Waxwing, an equally attractive bird that sometimes joins Cedar flocks, and the gorgeous Japanese Waxwing.
Cedar Waxwings are found from southern Canada to the central USA. Some populations do not migrate, while others travel to the southern USA or northern South America in winter.
This is one of North America’s few largely frugivorous (fruit-eating) birds. Outside of the breeding season, serviceberries, cherries, blackberries, mulberries, elderberries, mistletoe, juniper berries, crabapple and similar fruits make up the majority of the diet. Cedar Waxwings are skilled fliers, and sometimes pluck berries while hovering in place.
They are also agile enough to catch insects, including those supreme aerialists the dragonflies, on the wing. Insects feature heavily in the diet when they are nesting.
Like most frugivores, Waxwings must eat great quantities of food in order to meet their needs…individuals gorging on overripe fruit have become “drunk” and in need of human care until they “came to”!
Cedar Waxwings in Captivity
I’ve cared for Cedar Waxwings in zoos and as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator; it is not otherwise legal to keep this species in the USA.
European breeders never fail to mention this bird’s trusting nature, a sentiment that I’ve found true as well. Calm personalities render them wonderful pets (legalities of keeping birds bred in Europe must be investigated) …even individuals obtained as adults calm down and hand feed in short order.
Cedar Waxwings tend to become heavy and lethargic in captivity, and are therefore unsuitable for cage life. A large aviary or bird room, where they are forced to actively fly about and forage for food, is essential.
Cedar Waxwings must be provided with a wide variety of berries, along with currants and apples, but must not be allowed to consume favorites to the exclusion of other foods. Berries and fruits should always be rolled in a mix of high-quality insectivorous bird food (please write in if you have difficulty in locating this), Softbill Select and Egg Food. Hard boiled egg and some cooked ground beef should be offered regularly.
Both adults and chicks need a diet packed with insects and other invertebrates during the breeding season. Breeders should be provided with crickets, waxworms, mealworms, houseflies and other commercial species, along with wild-caught grasshoppers, katydids, spiders, sow bugs, beetles, termites, moths and non-hairy caterpillars. I’ve always maintained insect traps, such as the Zoo Med Bug Napper, to help meet the needs of the birds under my care.
Please see my articles on Collecting Feeder Insects to learn more about increasing dietary variety.
Canned Invertebrates marketed for use with captive reptiles and amphibians, are a convenient means of increasing the nutritional content of Cedar Waxwing diets.
Single pairs do not often breed; more success has been had in colony situations. Waxwings are very gregarious and, unless crowded, do well in groups.
Trees or bushes with dense foliage are preferred nesting sites. Courting males hop and bow and offer small bits of food to the objects of their desire. A variety of materials are used in nest construction – a process that may involve 2,500 collecting trips by the female!
Please see above for information on breeding season diets.
Cedar Waxwing image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ingrid Taylar
Cedar Waxwings Courting image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Minette Layne