The Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is one of three species in the Bombycillidae family. This distinctly American species is a widespread nomad and partial migrant, occurring from the Yukon province in Central Canada in the summer to the south of Central America in the winter.
Birdwatchers from the northern half of the USA can see these beautiful birds at any time of the year, but have you ever wondered where and when they nest?
Cedar Waxwings breed in the height of summer and even into the fall. Their late breeding season is probably related to their diet. Nesting, incubating, brooding, and feeding chicks all take energy, so they wait for the height of summer to capitalize on a ready supply of fruits and berries.
Cedar Waxwings build a rather tall, cup-shaped nest in trees and large shrubs. The pair forms in mid-spring and are monogamous for the nesting season, usually staying together for a second brood. Their nests are built in trees and shrubs, usually a little out of reach for most people, and the female lays four or five eggs per clutch.
This article covers the nesting habits of the Cedar Waxwing, a nomadic American fruit eater with a late nesting season.
Close up of a Cedar Waxwings nest, with approx 10 day old chicks
Cedar Waxwings are true nomads. These social birds are not particularly territorial when nesting so you might find several nests in the same general vicinity. Keep reading to learn more about where Cedar Waxwings build their nests.
Cedar Waxwings prefer open woodland or isolated patches of trees in open areas. They also nest in human-altered environments like pine plantations and orchards.
Cedar Waxwings are highly nomadic birds. Their movements are determined by the availability of the fruits they eat. They can be quite irregular and do not necessarily return to the same areas to nest.
Cedar Waxwings do not usually nest in backyards, although they could nest just about anywhere with suitable habitat.
Adult Cedar Waxwing feeding recently fledged chicks
Cedar Waxwings do not use nest boxes. They construct their nests in the fork of horizontal branches or occasionally across the top of a wide and level limb.
Cedar Waxwings nest in various tree and shrub species, including fruiting species and conifers. They often nest in the following tree species:
Cedar Waxwings usually nest about ten feet (3 m) above the ground, although their nests have been found in trees up to 50 feet (15.2 m) and as low as 3.6 feet (1.1 m).
Cedar Waxwings prefer building their nests in open woodland
Cedar Waxwings build somewhat untidy and bulky nests with neat, bowl-shaped interiors. Continue reading to learn more about their appearance.
Cedar Waxwings build relatively deep, cup-shaped nests that can be as tall as they are wide. Their nests are made from a variety of plant matter but often include other materials like string and spider silk.
Cedar Waxwings nests are quite variable in size. Most nests are within the following size range:
Close up of Cedar Waxwing courtship feeding
Cedar Waxwings nest relatively late in the season compared with other American songbirds. Pair formation and courtship may begin in mid-spring, but nesting may be completed well into the fall. Read on to learn more about the timing of Cedar Waxwing nesting.
Cedar Waxwings start nesting in the mid-summer when food is most abundant. Nest construction usually begins in June, often towards the end of the month.
Cedar Waxwings can complete each nesting cycle in about 38 days. This short time frame allows them to have more than one brood even though they begin nesting much later than other birds.
Cedar Waxwing nesting timeline:
Female Cedar Waxwings usually lay their first clutch of eggs after the second week in June. They can lay their eggs slightly earlier in the south of their breeding range, sometimes in the last week of May. Successful pairs will produce a second clutch in July or August.
Cedar Waxwings finish breeding before the start of winter. These birds migrate south in the winter, with some flocks traveling as far as the North of South America on their fall migration.
A group of hungry Cedar Waxwing fledglings waiting to be fed by their parent
Cedar Waxwings usually build a new nest for each brood, although some pairs will modify old nests or those of other bird species. Both male and female Cedar Waxwings scout for a nest site, although the female tends to have the final say.
Continue reading to learn more about Waxwing nest Construction.
Female Cedar Waxwings build their nests around themselves. They turn around within the nest while rocking back and forth to maintain a comfortable bowl shape. They weave in the nesting material by reaching over the edge and pushing it in with their bills.
The building process usually takes five or six days, although it can take up to nine days in some cases. However, Cedar Waxwings can complete a nest in just one day in a captive setting where food and nesting materials are easy to find.
Cedar Waxwings build their nests from a wide variety of natural and artificial materials that they find near the nest site. They will also take nesting materials from the nests (new or old) of other Waxwings and many other bird species.
These birds use finer materials to line the inner cup of the nest and create a more comfortable and insulated environment for the eggs and chicks.
Cedar Waxwings use the following materials to build their nests:
Both male and female Cedar Waxwings collect nesting materials, although the females do most of the actual building on the first nest. Males become more involved during the construction of the second nest and tend to do more work than females.
A breeding pair of Cedar Waxwings working together to collect string for the nest
Cedar Waxwing eggs measure about 0.86 inches (22 mm) long and 0.6 inches (15.6 mm) across. The attractive, spotted eggs have a pale blue-gray ground color and grey or black speckles.
Cedar Waxwings usually lay four or five eggs per clutch, although two to six eggs have been recorded.
Male Cedar Waxwings do not incubate the eggs. They tend to perch above the nest while the female is sitting on the eggs to look out for predators. They also bring food to their partner while she is incubating.
Cedar Waxwing gathering fluff for the nest
Baby Cedar Waxwings hatch naked, blind, and helpless. The young birds develop quickly on a diet of insects and fruits and reach their adult weight within two weeks. Keep reading to learn more about baby Cedar Waxwings.
Cedar Waxwings usually fledge the nest between fourteen and eighteen days after hatching. Their plumage is almost fully developed at this age - only their flight feathers have not reached full length.
The parents will continue to feed their chicks for six to ten days after leaving the nest. The male will feed the young birds on his own if his partner is incubating the next clutch of eggs.
Cedar Waxwings may have a second brood, often before the first chicks have fledged the nest. The pair will resume their courtship when the first brood is about a week old and build a new nest before laying the second clutch of eggs.
Adult Cedar Waxwing feeding fledgling on a branch
Cedar Waxwings will abandon a nest quite readily if disturbed during its construction phase. However, they will not be quick to desert their nest if they have eggs or chicks.
Cedar Waxwings do not build their nests on the ground. Most nests are built about ten feet (3 m) above the ground in small trees or large shrubs.
Cedar Waxwings are unlikely to sleep in a nest when not incubating their eggs or brooding their chicks. They probably roost in trees and shrubs during the night.
Young Cedar Waxwing perched on a leafy branch
It is difficult to reliably attract nesting Cedar Waxwings because of their nomadic lifestyle. The best way to attract these birds is to grow native fruiting plants like serviceberry and holly. Additionally, providing a clean source of fresh water for drinking and bathing will attract Waxwings and many other bird species.
Cedar Waxwings are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is best to allow them to finish breeding before moving their nest because disturbing them is illegal.
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