Incredible Winter Waxwings Provide A Wonderful Identification Challenge

winter waxwings, Bohemian Waxwings and Cedar Waxwings. 

If you hear a chorus of high-pitched notes overhead, understand that an exuberant flock of waxwings is on its way. But you cannot determine which waxwing it is as two similar waxwings give you the challenge to recognize them; Bohemian Waxwings and Cedar Waxwings

However, they both are very similar at first glance but you can differentiate them with a sharp eye. Both of the species are elegant fruit eaters and belong to the family Bombycilidae. Bohemian Waxwings and Cedar Waxwings are widespread in North America and occur together across much of their range. 


So how will you determine a Cedar Waxwing or Bohemian Waxwing in a flock? Let us help you.

The first difference that can be recognized easily; Cedar Waxwings are smaller and less colorfully marked as compared to the Bohemian Waxwings. 


Cedar Waxwing First Bohemian Waxwings Second

You can easily distinguish between them at a close range. Look at the color on the outer edges of the folded wings and under the tail. The Cedar Waxwings have white feathers under its tail, while the Bohemian Waxwings have yellow stripes along the edges of their wings.


Let’s dive deeper into the significant differences between the Cedar Waxwings and Bohemian Waxwings.

The Bohemian Waxwing is certainly larger than the Cedar Waxwing. 

Bohemian Waxwings measure around 6.3 to 8.5 inches in length and weigh 1.6 to 2.5 ounces (45-70 g).


Cedar Waxwings have a body length of 5.5 to 7.5 inches and a body mass of around 1.1 ounces (32 g).

Which is more common among Cedar Waxwings or Bohemian Waxwings?

Bohemian Waxwings (first) Cedar Waxwings (Second)


Cedar Waxwings are more likely to spot in central and southern latitudes. Bohemian Waxwings are the most common species in the north of Canada and are the only Bombycilla species in Alaska. 

Pretty clear differences between the Cedar Waxwings and Bohemian Waxwings to look out for in their appearances. 

You can distinguish between them by their size if you come across them in their mixed flocks. However, accurate identification becomes more difficult when you see only one species in their common habitat. But still, there are a few features that can help you to differentiate between Cedar Waxwings and Bohemian Waxwings.


Color of the Underparts

Cedar Waxwings have a warmer brownish color with a yellow belly while Bohemian Waxwings appear gray overall.

Cedar Waxwings (First) Bohemian Waxwings (second)


Under Tail Feathers

Their under-tail feathers are one of the visible features to differentiate. Cedar Waxwings have white vent feathers, whereas Bohemian Waxwings have red-brown feathers under their tails.

Bohemian Waxwing and Cedar Waxwing showing undertail feathers



Cedar Waxwings have a less clearly defined marking under the chin and a black eye mask which is prominently bordered in white.

Bohemian Waxwings have a rusty brown color on their face, above and below their black eye stripe. They also have a bright black spot under their chin.


Bohemian Waxwing and Cedar Waxwing


Adults of both Bohemian Waxwings and Cedar Waxwings have almost nine waxy red wingtip feathers with some visible white markings on their closed wings.


But Cedar Waxwings have more subdued wing markings. The Bohemian Waxwings have a diagnostic vertical stripe over the black feathers. They also have colorful markings on the outer edges of the closed wing including alternating black and white bars and yellow streaks.

Bohemian Waxwings Cedar Waxwings


Both Cedar Waxwings and Bohemian Waxwings occur in parts of the contiguous United States, but the Cedar Waxwings prominently range throughout the continental United States and Southern Canada, inhabiting open areas or forest edges. On the other hand, Bohemian Waxwings are found mostly in taiga vegetation and muskeg in Alaska and Western Canada, with some records in the Northwestern United States too.

Both species are nomadic and partially migratory but move together in flocks in the non-breeding season, searching out for fruiting trees before moving on. Cedar Waxwings move towards the American Southeast and Southwest regions during the winter. 


Cedar Waxwings

While Bohemian Waxwings do not migrate as far South, although they range further North, in Alaska and northern Canada. They can become locally numerous in the northern Rocky Mountains east to northern Minnesota. 


When the food is scarce, the Bohemian Waxwings can also wander southward along the Rockies or into the Midwest, New York, New England, and rarely even further south. Sometimes these Bohemians join up with flocks of the more common Cedars.

Waxwings often make high-pitched calls while flying and feeding together in a flock. 

Cedar Waxwings produce two high-pitched vocalizations, a rapid rattling trill, and a steady whistle. 


Bohemian Waxwings have a slightly lower-pitched, rapid guttural trill call that barely lasts for half a second. 

Female Birds of Bohemian Waxwings and Cedar Waxwings

Female Bohemian Waxwing Female Cedar Waxwing


Female Cedar Waxwings and Male Cedar Waxwings are almost identical but female birds have fewer waxy wingtips and a narrow yellow band on the ends of their tails.

Female Bohemian Waxwings are slightly different from the male birds and have a less clearly defined black throat patch.


Nesting habits of Cedar Waxwings and Bohemian Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwing Nest Cedar Waxwing Nest

Breeding of the Cedar Waxwings occurs in the north of the USA and Southern Canada. They begin nesting in mid to late summer and take advantage of the abundant fruits and berries at that time of the year. Cedar Waxwings often raise two broods in a single season.


Bohemian Waxwings breed in Northern regions, including many parts of Northern Canada and Alaska. Due to the short period of summers in those areas, they can raise only a single brood of two to six young per year.

Both species of waxwings are incredible and worth watching. Hopefully, you get an opportunity to enjoy their beautiful sight this winter, and this time you won’t be confused in identifying them. 





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