Richard and Diane Van Vleck Personal Pages
The Home Habitat

Cedar waxwing adult and nestling

Cedar Waxwing

Bombycilla cedrorum

The 2011 Nesting

Small flocks of cedar waxwings began visiting our yard several years ago, as adequate habitat slowly developed. We now have hundreds of Eastern red cedars, as well as Virginia creeper, crabapple, pokeberry, choke cherries, and blackberries. Last spring, two waxwings were observed on dead branches of a silver maple outside a window on the bandstand (summer office in the barn). The next evening, they returned to the dead branches of the maple and this time perched side by side and displayed the "side hop" and berry passing routine for which this species is famous. Great! We have nesting cedar waxwings! I learned nothing about the nest location by watching the cedar waxwings leave the maple, but finally noticed where one of them came from when returning to the maple. The nest was only 50 feet away in a volunteer tree that emerged where an old wagon shed had been. Later, when observing the nest from a blind, it became apparent that the cedar waxwings never fly directly to the nest, but rather, flutter and climb through the branches to slowly approach the nest from the interior of the tree.

Once the nest was discovered, I realized the importance of the dead branches of the maple tree. While I have written elsewhere on this site about my fondness for snags, especially the huge ancient hickories down at the creek, this young maple with its dead limbs annoyed me. Every time I looked out the bandstand window to see this imperfect specimen, I reminded myself that the maple was on my short list for destruction. But, now I realized that many birds had used those dead branches this spring as a singing perch. They wanted to be heard and they wanted to be seen. Otherwise they could have perched on the fully leaved branches. Our home habitat is a democracy and they have out-voted me. The ugly young maple stays.

cedar waxwing

The soft blended colors and fine silky texture of the cedar waxwing's feathers make this, in my opinion, the most beautiful species in our home habitat. And, I say that, having just yesterday marveled at the remarkable breeding plumage of a male wood duck down by the creek. But, comparing the two is like comparing the best of two different musical genres - apples and oranges.
cedar waxwing feathers

The red waxy tips of the cedar waxwing's secondaries are provided by a carotenoid pigment obtained from its diet. The terminal yellow band on the tail feathers is also derived from carotene in the diet. Now added to the list of things I want to someday do is to touch that waxy red tip of a cedar waxwing's feather. Considering the amount of molting each year of all the birds on our property, it's a wonder we're not knee deep in feathers. I seldom see one.
cedar waxwing nestlings unusually large gape

Cedar waxwing nestlings have a large gape, likely evolved to accommodate large berries. Their mouths also seem darker red than that of most species.
Adult waxwings approach the nest with caution

Adult cedar waxwings approach the nest with caution. Never flying directly to it, they flutter and hop among the branches, approaching slowly from the rear or side and often observing from a distance of a foot or so for several minutes. But, when ready to leave the nest, they fly directly away.
cedar waxwing nestlings with adult

There were only three nestlings present when the nest was discovered. There may have been a fourth egg, but I didn't approach the nest to check. Also, I never saw both adults at the nest at the same time and didn't note any differences in plumage. They likely didn't have identical red feather tips.
The aerial blind at the waxwing nest The blind at the waxwing nest after a wind storm
The aerial blind at the cedar waxwing nest. I wasn't smart enough to untie the tarp when not in use, but, at least, I was smart enough to not be in the blind during a sudden storm. As heavy as the scaffolding and planks are, the tarp acted like a sail in the strong wind.

May 20, 2012 update: The first cedar waxwing of the year was seen today, and, of course, it was in the ugly young maple tree.

2022 update - Return of the barn owls
2021 Chimney Swift tower success!!!
2020 Barn Swallow nesting
Barn swallow nest cups
2019 Barn Swallows and Black Rat Snakes

2018 - The Barnyard Balance of Nature Goes Awry
Black rat snakes vs barn swallows, Northern flickers, kestrels and others

2018 Purple Martin preference for clam shells
2017 - Return of the Monarchs!
2017 Purple Martin prey photos
2010 - 2016 Northern flicker nestings
2014 house wren gourd use
2014 - A dramatic loss of many types of insects
2019-2020 Purple Martin nesting
2014 barn owl nesting - prey study
A new barn swallow shelter for 2013
2010 barn owl nesting
2010 Update
2016-2017 Kestrel nestings
Starling traps
Using blinds in the home habitat
Providing perches for birds
Providing snags for wildlife
The ugly young maple
2001 - 2013 nest cams
Use of tomato cages as hunting perches by insectivorous song birds
Vultures, beetles and the resurrection of life

Species of interest in our yard - photos and articles
barn owl American kestrel purple martin barn swallow Eastern bluebird
tufted titmouse Eastern phoebe yellow shafted flicker tree swallow chimney swift
house wren big brown bat Carolina wren brown thrasher catbird
cedar waxwing Northern mockingbird
Yellow warbler Acadian flycatcher

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