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Cedar vs. Bohemian Waxwings

4-18-16bohemian vs. cedar waxwingWorldwide there are three species of waxwings:  Cedar, Bohemian and Japanese.  The first two species occur in North America, and while they share many traits, they also have their differences.  Both species look somewhat alike, in that they both have crests and black eye masks.  Both species also form nomadic, social flocks that are constantly in search of sugary fruit.   However, there are distinct differences in their distribution, size and plumage.

RANGE:  If you’re in the Northeast, and it’s summer, the waxwing you’re looking at almost assuredly is a Cedar Waxwing, as they are permanent residents, breeding and overwintering here.  Bohemian Waxwings breed in northwest Canada and Alaska, and are only seen in the Northeast in the late fall, winter, or early spring, when they extend their range in search of fruit.  Often they will join flocks of cedar waxwings as they feed.  They are an irruptive species, irregularly appearing south of their normal winter range in large numbers.

SIZE:  Even though Bohemian Waxwings are only about an inch longer than Cedar Waxwings, they are nearly double their weight – Bohemians are chunky, Cedars are svelte.

PLUMAGE:  Both of these species have a black eye mask, a yellow (or occasionally orange, due to diet) tail band and frequently red wax at the tip of some of their feathers. The easiest way to distinguish Cedar from Bohemian Waxwings is to look at the color of their undertail feathers (coverts).  Bohemians’ are rust-colored and Cedars’ are white. Bohemian Waxwings have a gray chest and belly, while Cedars have a brownish chest and yellow belly.

At this time of year you can find both species gorging on crab apples, often side by side, though Bohemians are soon to depart for the Northwest.

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6 responses

  1. joan waltermire

    Apparently the tail tips of cedar waxwings come in orange if they are feeding on the invasive Morrow’s honeysuckle while the feathers are growing.

    April 18, 2016 at 6:47 am

    • Yes! I just photographed my first one last month – bright orange tail tip!

      April 18, 2016 at 5:19 pm

  2. Bohemian Waxwings are much larger than the Cedar Waxwings. He in southern Ontario on the north shore of Lake Ontario we can see large flocks of Bohemian Waxwings early in winter. Last year we had a large flock of about 300 birds, they hung around for about a week and they were in Cobourg for most of the duration. They came further east to Grafton for a few days. The difference in size of the two species is noticeable. The under belly of the Cedar Waxwing is yellow, while the Bohemian Waxwing has a red or rusty patch under it’s tail down from the belly.

    April 18, 2016 at 7:24 am

  3. Thank you Mary. I always wondered about this, especially at a glance.

    April 18, 2016 at 9:21 am

  4. I love waxwings for their soft-looking feathers – your photos are fabulous!

    April 18, 2016 at 8:49 pm

  5. Christopher F. Holland


    April 20, 2016 at 11:02 am

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