Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are stunning birds - easily recognizable by their black face masks and the bright red, wax-like tip on their wings. They are widespread throughout North America - present year-round in the northern and central United States, with breeding grounds in Canada and wintering territory as far south as southern Mexico.
The cedar waxwings name is derived from its favorite food - cedar berries. These frugivores also eat a multitude of other seasonal fruits, including strawberries, holly berries, dogwood, and madrone. During the breeding season, insects fill out a vital part of the birds’ diet. You can watch them dart gracefully over ponds and streams, catching dragonflies in mid-air.
Outside of the breeding season, though, the waxwing almost exclusively eats sugary fruit. In this article, we take a deep dive into the unique diet of the cedar waxwing. We will also discuss how you can attract these beautiful birds to your yard. Read on to discover more!
A cedar waxwing eating Saskatoon berries
Cedar waxwings are fruit lovers. They primarily forage berries such as cedar, strawberry, serviceberry, and dogwood. Other favored fruits include crabapple, honeysuckle, mountain ash, hawthorn, mistletoe, and madrone.
During the breeding season, waxwings also eat various insects for added protein. Dragonflies, mayflies, leaf beetles, and spruce budworm are among the most commonly consumed.
A plethora of berries make up the cedar waxwings diet. As their name suggests, they are fond of cedar berries, but also eat blueberries, raspberries, dogwood, strawberries, mulberries, juniper, and serviceberries - to name a few.
Because cedar waxwings are widely distributed throughout North America, the berries they eat will vary slightly based on region.
Cedar Waxwings aren't very fussy when it comes to berries
Cedar waxwings forage and eat frequently throughout the day. During the breeding season, both the male and female forage until the eggs are laid.
At this time, the female primarily stays on the nest during incubation and brooding. The male forages and brings her food at regular intervals until the chicks are independent enough to be left alone for short periods.
Cedar waxwings typically forage for fruits and berries while perched on a shrub or tree. They pick the fruit with their bill while holding onto the branch. Occasionally, the birds will hover for a short period to grab fruit.
Waxwings also forage for insects. These are caught from flight - via aerial sallies that generally take place over water sources - or directly from vegetation. While these birds forage for fruits, they also examine bark and leaves for protein-rich bugs.
Cedar Waxwing feeding on berries during the fall
Cedar waxwings are diurnal, meaning they are active throughout the day. The birds feed frequently throughout their waking hours. Exceptions occur during the breeding season as mated pairs build their nest and while females incubate or brood their young.
Cedar waxwings feed almost exclusively on berries throughout the winter. Cedar berries are the birds' primary food source - other fruits are determined by range. In the southwest, juniper, madrone, and peppertree are vital parts of the waxwings’ diet. Farther north, the birds consume more mountain ash, mistletoe, and holly berries.
Insects are generally not available during winter, particularly for birds in the northernmost regions of their range. Those migrating south to Mexico for winter may occasionally supplement their diets with insects.
A pair of Cedar Waxwings foraging on berries during the winter
During summer, cedar waxwings eat various fruits and berries, supplemented with insects. Strawberries, serviceberries, and mulberries are vital summer fruits for this bird. They also commonly eat cherries, raspberries, and dogwood.
Waxwings also ramp up their insect consumption during the summer breeding season. They eat vegetation and aerial-borne insects, including dragonflies, mayflies, stoneflies, and ants. Spruce budworm larvae, elm leaf beetle, and sap-feeding insects are popular food items as well.
Baby cedar waxwings primarily eat insects for the first few days after hatching. Then, the parents begin introducing fruits, which soon make up the majority of the nestlings' diet.
Cedar Waxwing feeding chicks in the nest
Cedar waxwings are primarily attracted to fresh fruits and berries. You can provide an assortment of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and sliced apples. They may also eat mealworms tossed into the mix.
Because these birds mainly take food from a perch or flight, it is best to place their food on an open platform feeder or other solid surfaces off the ground.
Cedar waxwings do not generally feed on the ground. They prefer to pick berries or glean insects while perched on vegetation. Waxwings also catch aerial-borne insects from flight.
Cedar Waxwing perched on a fence post
Cedar waxwings do not generally eat seeds directly. They are frugivores and insectivores. Fresh fruits are the birds' primary food source, supplemented by protein-rich insects throughout the breeding season.
Cedar waxwings frequently drink water due to their sugar-heavy diets. The birds are fond of scooping up water from ponds or streams, but will also use birdbaths.
A cedar waxwing drinking water from a birdbath
Cedar waxwings are uncommon visitors to bird feeders. However, you may entice them to a large platform feeder with an assortment of fruits and berries.
Offering fresh fruits directly on the bush is the best way to attract these birds to your yard. If you have cedar trees, waxwings are highly likely to visit you. Blueberry, mulberry, or serviceberry bushes and dogwood or mountain ash trees are also among their favorite native foods.
Cedar waxwings are not considered omnivores. They are herbivores and carnivores. Their year-round diets primarily consist of fruits, while insects are important during the summer breeding season.
A small flock of Cedar Waxwings at a backyard bird feeder
Cedar waxwings do not visit feeders often. However, they can be enticed to open platform feeders filled with an assortment of fresh fruit and berries.
Cedar waxwings will eat oranges. You can offer them as slices or halves.
Cedar waxwings do not eat suet. You can attract them to your yard with fresh fruits and berries on a platform feeder or directly from trees and shrubs.
Cedar waxwings will eat holly berries. These berries are a primary food source for the waxwing during winter in the eastern United States.
Cedar Waxwing feeding on Holly Berries, Texas
Cedar waxwings love blueberries and other sweet berries. You can provide fresh blueberries for waxwings via an open platform feeder. However, the birds prefer foraging berries directly from the bush.
Crabapples are a favored fruit of the cedar waxwing. They also commonly eat cedar berries, dogwood, mountain ash, and honeysuckle.
Cedar waxwings do not eat sunflower seeds or any other seed directly. They exclusively eat fruits, berries, and insects.
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