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One of only three species worldwide in the family Bombycillidae, the Cedar Waxwing is named for the red, waxlike tips on the secondary flight-feathers of adult birds (infrequent in the Japanese Waxwing). Sugary fruits dominate the diet of the Cedar Waxwing most of the year, but it adds insects to its diet during the summer, gleaning them from vegetation or capturing them near streams or ponds by aerial sallies from exposed perches.
Many aspects of the natural history of the Cedar Waxwing reflect its dietary specialization on sugary fruits. Its flocking and unpredictable nomadic movements are typical of animals that feed on patchily distributed foods, such as fruits. Even during the breeding season, the Cedar Waxwing exhibits much lower levels of return to former breeding sites than other passerines. In addition, the breeding season of the Cedar Waxwing is late in the year, coincident with the seasonal availability of summer-ripening fruits. The sociality of individuals within winter flocks and the lack of territoriality during the breeding season also are associated with the reliance of this species on locally superabundant fruit crops.
Cedar Waxwing populations have increased during the last 20 years over much of North America, and may be expanding into new regions. Several factors may have fostered this this growth in range and numbers: the creation of edge habitats conducive to fruiting trees and shrubs, especially as farmlands regenerate to forests; the planting of fruiting trees and shrubs in rural and urban areas; and, perhaps, the elimination of the use of DDT from agriculture.