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Bohemian Waxwings Dining On Bald-faced Hornet Larvae

We think of Bohemian Waxwings, colorful winter visitors, as primarily consumers of sugary fruits, but their diet is not exclusively frugivorous.  They (and Cedar Waxwings) eat sap drips in the spring and aerial insects, especially emergent aquatic species, in the summer.

During the winter, in addition to fruits, Bohemian Waxwings also feed on protein-rich foods when they are available.  Pictured is one of many Bohemian Waxwings that found a goldmine of protein —  dead Bald-faced Hornet larvae.  While the hornet queen overwinters under loose bark or a similarly protected area, the larvae that are developing within the nest when a hard frost hits are killed.  Bohemian Waxwings apparently recognize this rich source of protein.  Scale insects and tree buds (American Elm and ash species) are also consumed in the winter and spring. (Photograph by Terry Marron)

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8 responses

  1. Christine Alexander

    I believe that the photo shows a paper wasp nest not a spherical bald faced hornet nest.

    January 16, 2023 at 8:35 am

    • Christine, you’re right, it does look like a paper wasp nest, but it is actually a bald-faced hornet nest with the outer “envelope” layers removed, probably with a little help from the waxwings, but also the wind!

      January 16, 2023 at 9:30 am

  2. Alice

    Could the Waxwing smell the dead hornet larvae? Smart bird to eat protein.

    January 16, 2023 at 9:52 am

  3. Cedar Waxwings are the most beautiful bird ever! They are not natural to the Massachusetts area! However many years back the very violent hurricane Bob three some off course and we had quite the bunch of flocks land on our street in Franklin, MA! They feasted on dropped rotten Jerusalem cherry trees that are planted along one side of our street on a strip of property that belongs to the town!

    January 16, 2023 at 10:06 am

  4. I am always glad to hear of these beautiful birds. I live in a small cottage underneath two huge Common Hackberry trees. Some years there are flocks of Cedar Waxwings mostly, robins and a few Bohemian Waxwings, all feasting on the fruit. I love the sweet sounds of the waxwings. They get a little tipsy and lose their ordinary fear of people, when it is possible to get closer to them.

    January 16, 2023 at 10:40 am

  5. Just the other day I was looking up at a high wasp nest that was very shredded – I guess by birds. I would think squirrels, or anything else arboreal, would also use this rich food source. When I was teaching science to young children, I often harvested a frozen baldfaced hornet nest to dissect with them – amazing architecture!

    January 16, 2023 at 1:00 pm

  6. Barbara Heim


    Sent from my iPad


    January 16, 2023 at 11:01 pm

  7. Bill on the Hill

    Yes Kathie, when found these kind of nests are fascinating to behold. A couple seasons back I had a white face hornets nest far up a silver maple, approx. 60 + feet, it was just under the size of a basketball & it was mid to late fall up here in the highlands of n. central Vt. I watched a pack of blue jays literally tear the nest apart with minimal bees flying around as I recall.
    Bill… :~)

    January 18, 2023 at 6:33 am

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