Waxwing ID Tips: Bohemian Waxwings vs Cedar Waxwings

Know what to look for the next time an elegant waxwing feasts on your berry tree. Learn the difference between cedar waxwings and bohemian waxwings.

cedar waxwingCourtesy Deborah Bryk

How to ID Cedar Waxwings

Cedar waxwings have a thin black mask with a white outline, and a brown, occasionally ragged short crest. The birds are medium sized, with a body length about 6 inches, and a pale yellow belly. The squared tail tip features a bright yellow band.

Despite their name, no, they don’t have wings made of wax, like Icarus of Greek mythology. Instead, they have small, red, waxy tips on certain wing feathers, noticeable only at close range. The number of red tips gives some clues about the birds’ identity. In cedar waxwings, many young birds (especially young females) have no red tips at all, while some adult males may have red tips on as many as nine wing feathers. These waxy tips don’t seem to serve any purpose other than decoration—one final accessory for the best-dressed birds.

Learn how to attract waxwings with berries.

bohemian waxwingCourtesy Justin Dutcher

How to ID Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian waxwings, found in the north and northwest, are sometimes confused for their strikingly similar cedar waxwing cousins. A good way to tell the two species apart is to check the wing markings and tail base color. Bohemians are grayer and have rusty red coloring under the base of their tails. When perched, white wing bars are visible on Bohemians (they’re absent on cedar waxwings). This stunning species is one of the top 9 most beautiful birds in America.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She enjoys growing vegetables in containers and raised beds and watching for birds in her backyard.