Adult. Note: gray body, yellow tail tip, and rufous undertail coverts.
© Gregg Thompson
  • Note: rufous face and undertail coverts and grayish belly.
  • Adult
  • Adult
  • Adult
  • Adult
  • Adult
  • Adult. Note: gray body, yellow tail tip, and rufous undertail coverts.

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Bohemian Waxwing

Bombycilla garrulus
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
Waxwings are sleek songbirds with pointed wings and unique, waxy, red tips at the ends of their secondary feathers. Waxwings specialize in sugary fruit, especially berries. They generally inhabit open woods and edges, and have become more common in developed areas because of ornamental plantings that provide berries. They also eat insects, which they often catch by flying out from exposed perches. Waxwings are social and are usually found in flocks regardless of season. These birds are migratory, but are quite nomadic in their movements. They are monogamous and often nest in loose colonies. Females generally build the nest and incubate the young. This family has only three species: the Bohemian Waxwing, a Holarctic species, found across northern Eurasia and North America; the Cedar Waxwing, which nests in North America and winters to South America; and the Japanese Waxwing in East Asia.
Uncommon winter east. Irregular west.

    General Description

    Bohemian Waxwings are sleek, masked birds with unusual red, waxy deposits at the tips of their secondary feathers. They are grayish-brown with white and yellow wing-patches and yellow terminal tail-bands. They have distinctive crested heads, black throats, and black masks lightly lined with white. Their heads have a rufous tinge, and their undertail coverts are rufous. Juveniles have most of the aforementioned field marks, but are mottled gray-brown and lack the feather-tips. The feather-tips seem to increase in number and size as the birds age. The only bird in Washington that could be confused with a Bohemian Waxwing is a Cedar Waxwing, a far more common relative. Cedars are smaller and browner than Bohemians and have a yellow tinge underneath. They lack the rufous undertail coverts and white and yellow wing markings of Bohemian Waxwings.


    Bohemian Waxwings breed in open areas and edges of boreal forests, often in places with sparse tree cover above brushy understory. During winter, they can be found in a variety of habitats, as long as there is fruit available. They often congregate in towns with abundant plantings of fruit-bearing trees.


    Flocks are common in all seasons, but nomadic winter flocks of hundreds of birds are the most common sighting in Washington. Bohemian Waxwings may be mixed in with more common Cedar Waxwing flocks during the winter. They often perch atop trees to forage for fruits and berries. In summer, they fly out to catch aerial insects.


    Bohemian Waxwings eat some insects, but are primarily fruit-eaters, a trait that dictates much of their behavior. They eat almost nothing but fruit in the winter, relying on the berries of mountain ash, juniper, holly, and others. They also forage on fruit crops and ornamental plantings. Waxwings are susceptible to alcohol intoxication, and even death, from eating fermented fruit. Like most songbirds, they feed insects to their young at first, but switch to feeding the young berries within a few days.


    Bohemian Waxwings are monogamous, and both members of the pair help build the nest, which is usually on a horizontal branch of a spruce tree. The nest is a loose, open cup made of grass, twigs, and moss, lined with feathers and fine grass. The female incubates 4 to 6 eggs for about 14 to 15 days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest at 14 to 18 days. The young stay close to the nest and are fed by the parents for another few days. Family groups may stay together through the fall.

    Migration Status

    This nomadic and irruptive species wanders in search of food sources, rather than undertaking a typical migration. Food availability seems to be a more important predictor of winter presence than temperature or latitude.

    Conservation Status

    Populations fluctuate considerably from year to year, but Christmas Bird Count data reveal a slightly declining long-term trend.

    When and Where to Find in Washington

    Most Bohemian Waxwings in Washington are northern breeders that come down into Washington in winter. In most years they are fairly common in winter in northeastern Washington (Ferry, Douglas, Okanogan, Stevens, and Pend Oreille Counties), especially in cities and towns where they feed on fruit trees. In some years they extend farther west into the Columbia Basin (Cle Elum and Ellensburg), and can rarely be seen west of the Cascades. Bohemian Waxwings are rare breeders in Washington in the North Cascades at Hart's Pass (Whatcom County) and Holman Pass (Okanogan County).

    Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

    C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
    Pacific Northwest Coast
    Puget TroughIII I
    North CascadesII III
    West Cascades
    East CascadesIII III
    OkanoganFFU UFF
    Canadian RockiesFFF UFFF
    Blue MountainsRR RR
    Columbia PlateauUUU RUU

    Washington Range Map

    North American Range Map

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    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern