What Do Cedar Waxwings Eat? Discover Their Diet & How to Attract Them

As we delve into the world of our feathered friends, the cedar waxwings, we’re captivated by their unique beauty and fascinating behaviors. These sleek birds, known for their striking appearance, have always intrigued us with their dietary habits. What exactly do these elegant creatures feast on?

Cedar waxwings are not your typical backyard bird; their diet is as exquisite as their smooth, silky plumage. They lead us on a journey through nature’s bounty, from the branches of fruit-laden trees to the edges of bubbling streams. Join us as we explore the diverse menu that sustains these charming avian wonders and discover the secrets behind their selective eating habits. It’s a fascinating story that intertwines the lives of cedar waxwings with the natural world around us.

Understanding Cedar Waxwings

Diving deeper into the lives of cedar waxwings, we uncover the essence behind their selective eating habits. These sleek birds, known for their striking appearance, have diets that mirror the abundance of their habitats. Cedar waxwings are not just beautiful; their foraging behavior is equally fascinating.

Primarily, these birds are frugivores, indicating a strong preference for fruits. Throughout the year, their diet consists largely of berries from various plants, trees, and shrubs. In spring and summer, when fruits are aplenty, cedar waxwings can be found in areas rich in berry-producing vegetation, such as dogwood, juniper, and raspberry. But their love for fruits does not end with berries. In fall and winter, when such resources become scarce, they adapt by consuming fruits of cedar trees, from which they get their name, along with mistletoe, holly, and crabapples.

What makes cedar waxwings unique, however, is their communal feeding habits. They are often spotted passing berries or fruit pieces from one bird to another in a line until every bird has had a chance to eat. This remarkable behavior showcases their social nature, further connecting them with the ecosystems they inhabit.

In addition to fruits, cedar waxwings also incorporate insects into their diet, especially during breeding season when protein-rich food becomes crucial. They snatch insects such as mayflies, dragonflies, and beetles from mid-air in acrobatic displays of agility. These protein sources become particularly important when feeding their young, providing the essential nutrients for growth.

Understanding cedar waxwings’ diets gives us insight into their adaptation to seasonal changes and their interaction with ecosystems. Their preference for certain types of fruit helps in the dispersal of seeds, contributing to the biodiversity of their habitats. This intricate relationship between cedar waxwings and their environment underscores the importance of preserving natural habitats for these and other wildlife species to thrive.

What Do Cedar Waxwings Eat?

Diving deeper into the diet of these fascinating birds, cedar waxwings primarily indulge in fruits and berries, making them stand out in the bird kingdom. They’re not just any fruit eaters; they have a preference for certain types of berries and fruits, depending on what’s available seasonally. In spring and summer, they feast on the early berries of serviceberry, strawberry, mulberry, and raspberry bushes. As the seasons turn to fall and winter, they shift their preferences to cedar berries, holly, and mistletoe, ensuring they have a consistent food source year-round.

Cedar waxwings are also known for their love of overripe or fermented berries, which can sometimes lead to slightly intoxicated behaviors, an amusing sight for birdwatchers. Their ability to metabolize alcohol from these fermented fruits better than other species is a unique characteristic, although they must still be careful with their consumption.

Insects become a significant part of their diet during the breeding season, when the need for protein increases. They’ll skillfully catch insects mid-air or forage them from foliage, showcasing their versatility and adaptability in diet. Caterpillars, beetles, and ants are among their preferred choices, providing the essential nutrients needed for the growth of their young.

To complement their diet, cedar waxwings occasionally consume sap from trees when fruits are scarce, demonstrating their resourcefulness. This varied diet not only highlights their adaptability but also underscores the importance of diverse habitats that support a wide range of food sources. Cedar waxwings’ eating habits have a direct impact on their survival and reproduction, illustrating the interconnectedness between wildlife and their ecosystems. By understanding what cedar waxwings eat, we appreciate the complex relationships these birds have with their environment and the vital role they play in the ecosystem’s biodiversity.

The Importance of Diet for Cedar Waxwings

Cedar waxwings rely on a specific diet that significantly influences their health, reproductive success, and survival. Their frugivorous nature necessitates access to a variety of berry-producing plants throughout the year. During the spring and summer, insects become a crucial part of their diet, providing the necessary protein for breeding cedar waxwings and their growing chicks. This dietary flexibility allows cedar waxwings to thrive in different environments but also makes them sensitive to changes in food availability and habitat quality.

The preference for certain types of berries, such as those from dogwood, juniper, and holly plants, underscores the importance of diverse plant life in their habitats. These birds play a vital role in their ecosystems, acting as seed dispersers for these plants. The consumption and subsequent dispersal of seeds in their droppings facilitate plant reproduction, contributing to the health and diversity of ecosystems. Furthermore, the birds’ habit of consuming overripe or fermented fruits not only highlights their unique metabolic capabilities but also indicates their role in reducing the spread of potentially harmful molds and bacteria that could adversely affect other species.

Ensuring the conservation of natural habitats, rich in the plant and insect life essential to the cedar waxwing’s diet, is paramount. Habitat preservation efforts help maintain the biodiversity necessary for their diet and for the ecological services they provide, including pest control and seed dispersal. The intricate relationship between cedar waxwings and their diet exemplifies the interconnectedness of wildlife and their environment, emphasizing the critical need for conservation and sustainable practices to support these unique birds and the broader ecosystems they inhabit.

By understanding and appreciating the complexity of cedar waxwings’ dietary needs, we emphasize the broader message of wildlife conservation and the protection of natural habitats essential for the survival of various species. Cedar waxwings exemplify the delicate balance within ecosystems, where every species and its diet play a pivotal role in maintaining ecological harmony.

How to Attract Cedar Waxwings

Attracting cedar waxwings to your backyard or garden involves catering to their specific dietary preferences and providing a habitat that meets their needs for food, shelter, and nesting sites. Here are some strategies to make your space more appealing to these beautiful birds.

Plant Berry-Producing Plants

Given cedar waxwings’ love for berries, planting berry-producing plants is a surefire way to draw them in. Focus on varieties that bear fruit at different times of the year to provide a consistent food source. Some favorites include:

  • Dogwood: Offers berries in late summer and fall.
  • Juniper: Provides winter berries, crucial during cold months.
  • Holly: Bears fruit in winter, a critical resource when food is scarce.
  • Mulberry and Serviceberry: Serve as excellent spring and early summer food sources.

Create a Water Source

Cedar waxwings are attracted to shallow, moving water sources for drinking and bathing. Installing a birdbath with a fountain or a shallow pond can make your yard more inviting. Ensure the water feature is clean and refill it regularly to maintain their interest and health.

Avoid Pesticides

Since cedar waxwings consume insects, especially during the breeding season for protein, it’s vital to avoid using pesticides in your garden. Chemicals can reduce the insect population or poison the birds indirectly. Fostering a natural ecosystem will ensure cedar waxwings have access to a healthy diet and contribute to the overall health of your backyard habitat.

Provide Nesting Materials

While cedar waxwings don’t use birdhouses, they do appreciate the availability of nesting materials. Leaving natural fibers, small twigs, and grass clippings in open areas can encourage them to build nests nearby. Additionally, maintaining a diverse landscape with thick shrubs and tall trees offers them ideal nesting sites and shelter from predators.

Adopting these strategies, you’ll not only attract cedar waxwings but also support their health and contribute to the biodiversity of your local ecosystem. Their presence is a sign of a healthy, thriving environment, and their aesthetically pleasing appearance and unique behaviors make them a joy to observe.

Human Impact on Cedar Waxwing Diet

Human activities significantly modify the environments where cedar waxwings live and forage, impacting their diet both positively and negatively. Urban development, the use of pesticides, and the planting of non-native berry-producing plants all play a role in shaping the feeding behaviors and dietary options available to these birds.

Urban development often results in the loss of natural habitats where cedar waxwings traditionally find their food. The reduction of wild spaces means fewer native berry-producing plants, such as dogwoods and junipers, significantly impacting the natural food sources for cedar waxwings. In urban and suburban areas, however, some landscaping practices can benefit these birds. The planting of ornamental berry-producing plants, although not native, provides an alternative food source, supporting cedar waxwings in areas where their natural habitats have been diminished.

The use of pesticides presents another challenge, affecting the insects cedar waxwings rely on for protein, especially during the breeding season. Ingesting insects from plants treated with pesticides can lead to health issues for cedar waxwings, reducing their available protein sources and impacting their reproductive success. To mitigate these risks, opting for organic gardening practices and avoiding the use of chemicals helps ensure a healthier insect population for cedar waxwings to feed on.

On a positive note, awareness about the importance of conservation and biodiversity has led to increased efforts in planting native berry-producing plants in urban and suburban landscapes. This initiative not only aids in restoring some of the birds’ natural diets but also encourages a shift away from harmful landscaping practices such as the excessive use of pesticides.

Our actions significantly impact the diet of cedar waxwings. By being mindful of our gardening and landscaping practices and making efforts to preserve and restore their natural habitats, we can help ensure that cedar waxwings continue to thrive and play their vital role in ecosystem health and biodiversity.


We’ve delved into the fascinating world of cedar waxwings, from their berry-centric diets to the challenges they face due to human activities. It’s clear that our actions play a significant role in shaping their feeding habits and overall health. By fostering environments rich in native berry plants and minimizing pesticide use, we can make a real difference. Let’s commit to being stewards of our feathered friends by promoting practices that support their dietary needs and habitat. Together, we can ensure that cedar waxwings continue to thrive and grace our landscapes with their presence.

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Dennis K. Carruth

Dennis K. Carruth - Passionate avian enthusiast and owner of Avian Enthusiast. Explore the world of birdwatching with expert guidance and curated resources.

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