The most widespread of three Waxwing species, the Bohemian Waxwing breeds in far northern forests and disperses each winter in search of sugary berries and fruits.
Bohemian Waxwing perching in a berry tree
Bohemian Waxwings in conflict
Bohemian Waxwing sitting on the branch of a berry tree
19cm to 23cm
45g to 70g
Bohemian Waxwings are handsome birds with a velvety look and a crest that is usually held flat except in courtship. Their overall color is gray-brown, tinged with peach around the head and face. A black chin and ‘bandit’ mask contrast with white markings below the eye and at the bill base.
Other distinctive features include an orange vent (tail underside) and a yellow band across the end of the tail. Their wings are a darker slate-gray color, each with two white patches, a yellow streak, and characteristic red waxy tips on the ends of the secondaries.
Female Bohemian Waxwings are similar to males, although they have fewer waxy wingtips. Females also have a narrower yellow band at the tail tip and a smaller, less clearly defined black chin patch.
Juveniles have smaller crests and lack waxy red feather tips. The breast is paler and streaked, and the overall plumage color is duller. They also have a narrower yellow tail tip and less black on the face and chin.
Birdwatchers are most likely to confuse this species with the smaller Cedar Waxwing in North America. Check out our in-depth guide to learn how to distinguish between these two elegant North American migrants.
Bohemian Waxwing perching on a branch
Bohemian Waxwings are medium-sized birds, slightly smaller than the European Starling.
These stout songbirds have a body length of 7½ to 9 inches or 19 to 23 centimeters. Females are slightly smaller, although the difference is unnoticeable.
Most Adults weigh approximately 1⅔ to 2½ ounces or 45 to 70 grams.
They have short, pointed wings and a wingspan of 13 inches or 33 centimeters.
Bohemian Waxwing feeding on over ripe fruit
Bohemian Waxwings have no song, although they produce high-pitched trills and whistling calls when flocking and feeding.
Bohemian Waxwing calling from the top of a tree
Bohemian Waxwings are mostly frugivorous, specializing in fruits from a variety of trees, shrubs, and vines. They also eat insects in the warmer months, catching them from the air or gleaning them from leaves and branches. Flowers, tree sap, and other plant matter are eaten in small amounts.
Both parents feed the chicks a mixed diet of regurgitated fruits and insects.
Bohemian Waxwing feeding on berries during the winter
Bohemian Waxwings are habitat generalists in the non-breeding season, visiting almost any area with abundant fruiting trees. Common habitats include forest edges, farmland, and even gardens. They are more specific in the summer, generally nesting in open coniferous forests.
Bohemian Waxwings are the most widespread species in their family, ranging across much of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, they are widespread in Alaska, Canada, and the west of the Contiguous United States. Across the Atlantic, these nomadic birds occur widely in Europe and Asia, stretching from the United Kingdom in the west to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east.
These birds live and nest in boreal forest habitats in the winter but travel widely each winter, moving wherever food sources are plentiful. They forage and sleep in trees and other vegetation, although they will descend to the ground for fallen berries and fruits.
Bohemian Waxwings are not rare, although their erratic winter movements make them difficult to track down in the south of their range. They may be locally abundant in some years but scarce or completely absent in others.
Bohemian Waxwing in natural habitat
Bohemian Waxwings are widespread winter visitors to the north and west of the Lower 48 States. In some years, these birds may migrate as far south as southern California and Arkansas, although their movements are governed by fickle food resources that change from year to year. They are a more reliable sighting in Alaska, where they breed each summer.
Read through our in-depth guide to learn more about the Bohemian Waxwing range and habitat in North America.
Bohemian Waxwings are widespread in Canada, nesting in the boreal forests of the west and northwest. They disperse south and eastwards for the non-breeding winter season.
Birdwatchers in the United Kingdom are most likely to see Waxwings in the east of Scotland, although they move south to East Anglia and further inland as food sources begin to run low. They are most fond of the Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia), although their arrival is not guaranteed every year as they will remain in mainland Europe when food is plentiful.
Bohemian Waxwing resting on a rock
Banding/ringing data suggests these birds can live for at least 15 years in the wild, although the average individual has a much shorter life expectancy.
Bohemian Waxwings are protected in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Bohemian Waxwings are a secure species with a growing population estimated at 14 to 29 million individuals.
Bohemian Waxwings perching on a branch of a crab apple tree
Bohemian Waxwings build their nests in trees, often near streams and other water bodies. They prefer to nest in open coniferous forests or along their edges but also use mixed and deciduous forest habitats. They build a small woven cup of twigs, grasses, moss, and down feathers on a limb six to 50 feet above the ground.
These birds breed relatively late, typically beginning nest construction in June or even July. The building process takes less than a week, however, and the female begins to lay eggs soon after. The eggs hatch after two weeks, and the chicks leave the nest 15 to 18 days later.
Bohemian Waxwings lay four to six pale blue eggs with sparse dark spots. Each egg measures about 24 millimeters long and 18 millimeters across.
Pair of Bohemian Waxwings
Bohemian Waxwings are gregarious and non-territorial. They are usually non-aggressive except when males guard their partners during the nesting season.
These sociable birds roost in dense vegetation like hedges and trees, often in large flocks in the winter and sometimes communally with other species like the American Robin. They may perch close together for body warmth in very cold weather.
Bohemian Waxwings resting on top of a tree stump
Bohemian Waxwings are partial migrants with unpredictable migration patterns. They are present in parts of their range throughout the year but also migrate medium to long distances to warmer climates. In some years (irruption years), these birds travel in unusually high numbers or to locations south of their normal range.
Bohemian Waxwings find ideal nesting conditions in the boreal forests of Canada, Alaska, Northern Europe, and Russia. However, they must retreat from the northernmost limits of their range to avoid the harsh winter. They move south, southeast, and southwest in search of milder weather and their favorite fruiting plants.
Bohemian Waxwings are a native species in North America. They live in Alaska, Canada, and roughly the northern half of the Lower 48 states.
Waxwings are native to the United Kingdom, although they do not nest locally. They are non-breeding winter visitors from Scandinavia.
Bohemian Waxwing in-flight
For some, the Bohemian Waxwing represents the arrival of winter, while for others, these nomadic birds may symbolize a free spirit that travels in search of nourishment or fulfillment.
Waxwings are named for the waxy tips on their secondary feathers, visible as red spots on their folded wings. Just why these birds develop waxy wingtips is something of a mystery, although they may be useful for impressing a mate.
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