Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) and Cedar Waxwings (B. cedrorum) are very similar birds at first glance. These elegant fruit eaters from the Bombycillidae family are widespread in North America and occur together across much of their range.
So how do you tell the difference between a Bohemian Waxwing and a Cedar Waxwing?
Cedar Waxwings are smaller, browner, and less colorfully marked than the Bohemian Waxwing. Both species occur in parts of the Contiguous United States at times of the year, but the Cedar Waxwing is more common and widespread, especially in the South.
These birds have similar, high-pitched calls, but with some practice, you should be able to distinguish between the two at close range. Look for color differences on the outer edges of the folded wing and under the tail to confirm your identification.
The Cedar Waxwing has white feathers under its tail, while the Bohemian Waxwing has a yellow stripe along the edge of its wing.
Ready to learn how to tell these beautiful birds apart? Read along for an in-depth comparison!
Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings occur together over much of their American distribution, but there are also large areas where the two species do not overlap.
Both species are nomadic and partially migratory. These specialist fruit-eaters move together in flocks in the non-breeding season, searching out fruiting trees to feast before moving on.
Cedar Waxwings visit the American Southwest and Southeast in the Winter. Bohemian Waxwings do not migrate as far south, although they occur further north, in Alaska and northern Canada.
Keep reading to learn more about the distributions of these birds.
Bohemian Waxwing feeding on red berries
Bohemian Waxwings are year-round residents from the extreme northwest of the Lower 48, up through western Canada, and in southern Alaska.
These widespread nomads have a more northerly distribution than the Cedar Waxwing. They also occur right across the north of Europe and Asia.
These partial migrants visit much of Alaska and central and northwestern Canada during the summer breeding season. In the winter, many Bohemian Waxwings head south into southern Canada and the United States.
Their lower 48 distribution includes much of the West, the northern half of the Midwest, and the Northeast. In Some years, Bohemian Waxwings turn up as far south as New Mexico and Arkansas.
Cedar Waxwings occur throughout the United States, although they are nomadic and often unpredictable in their movements. These birds are present throughout the year across the northern half of the contiguous USA and Canada from the West coast to the East.
Cedar Waxwings migrate northwards in the summer to breed in the Northern US states and up to central Canada. These birds travel as far as Florida and even through Mexico to Central America in the winter. Their erratic movements are in response to weather and fruit availability.
Cedar Waxwing feeding on red berries
The Bohemian Waxwing is significantly larger than the Cedar Waxwing. They measure about a three-quarter inch longer on average but are much heavier, even up to twice the weight of their southern relatives.
Read on for more detailed information on their weights and lengths.
Bohemian Waxwing in flight
Birdwatchers are far more likely to spot Cedar Waxwings in the Lower 48, especially in the central and southern latitudes. Bohemian Waxwings are the more common species in the north of Canada and are the only Bombycilla species in Alaska.
Cedar Waxwing taking off for flight
The size difference between Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings is especially noticeable when the birds are seen together in a mixed flock.
However, accurate identifications can be more difficult when only one species has been seen, especially in areas where both species occur. Fortunately, there are some pretty clear differences to look out for in their appearance.
Feather coloration is the most reliable way to distinguish between these two similar birds in the field. Keep reading to learn which plumage differences to look for.
General body color is a great place to start when distinguishing between the American Waxwings. Bohemian Waxwings appear grayer overall, while the Cedar Waxwing has a warmer brownish color and a yellow belly.
The color of the feathers under the tail is one of the most visible differences between these two similar species. Cedar Waxwings have white vent feathers, whereas Bohemian Waxwings are red-brown under their tail feathers.
Close up of a perched Bohemian Waxwing
Bohemian Waxwings have a rusty brown color on their faces above and below their black eye stripe. They also have a bold black spot under their chin. Cedar Waxwings have a less clearly defined marking under the chin, but their black eye ‘mask’ is prominently bordered in white.
Adults of both species have up to nine waxy red wingtip feathers and some white markings visible on the closed wing. However, Cedar Waxwings have more subdued wing markings.
The Bohemian Waxwing has a diagnostic vertical white stripe over the black flight feathers on the lower edge of each wing. Bohemian Waxwings also have more colorful markings on the outer edges of the closed wing, including a yellow streak and alternating black and white bars.
Close up of a perched Cedar Waxwing
Waxwings are songbirds that do not sing. However, both North American species are vocal birds, and you will often hear them long before you see them. Waxwings often make their high-pitched calls while flying and feeding together as a flock.
Cedar Waxwings produce two high-pitched vocalizations, a rapid rattling trill, and a brief but steady whistle. Bohemian Waxwings have a slightly lower-pitched, rapid trill call that lasts just under half a second.
Cedar Waxwings begin nesting in mid to late summer. Their breeding range includes much of the north of the USA and southern Canada. They get off to a relatively late start to take advantage of the abundant fruits and berries at that time of the year and are often able to raise two broods in a single season.
Bohemian Waxwings breed further north, including much of northern Canada and Alaska. Summers are short at those high latitudes, restricting them to a single brood of two to six young per year.
Bohemian Waxwing perched on a branch
Female Cedar Waxwings look almost identical to males but usually have fewer waxy wingtips and a narrower yellow band on the ends of their tails. Bohemian Waxwing females also differ from their male counterparts in having a less clearly defined black throat patch.
The females of these two species can be told apart by the same differences in size, underpart, and wing coloration that occur in males.
Cedar Waxwing perched on a branch
Birders can see juvenile Waxwings from mid-summer to mid-winter. These young birds are easily distinguished from adults by their ‘scruffy’ appearance and short crests, but how do you tell a juvenile Bohemian from a juvenile Cedar Waxwing?
Bohemian Waxwings are seen in juvenile plumage between June And October, while juvenile Cedar Waxwings are around from July to December. The reddish-brown coloration under the tail of the Juvenile Bohemian Waxwing is diagnostic. Juvenile Cedar Waxwings have white feathers under their tails.
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