Skip to content

Trendy and Social, Winter Waxwings Present a Great ID Problem


    Whenever you hear a refrain of high-pitched see! notes overhead, anticipate a great time: A rambunctious flock of waxwings is on its manner. Extremely social birds that seem to don’t have any sense of non-public house, North America’s two waxwing species—Bohemian and Cedar—additionally look very related. Telling these elegant birds aside makes for a superb ID problem.

    Throughout the breeding season, location can present an preliminary intestine examine. Cedar Waxwings are predominant all through the northern continental United States and southern Canada, inhabiting open areas or forest edges. Bohemian Waxwings are discovered largely in boreal forests and muskeg in Alaska and western Canada, with some data within the northwestern United States, too.

    However the species overlap in components of their ranges, and that frequent floor grows through the winter, when each rove far and extensive in quest of meals. Due to their fruit-heavy food plan, you’re not more likely to discover both species at a fowl feeder, however you may encounter them at any fruiting tree of their vary, even decorative timber in yards and parking heaps.

    Throughout the winter months, Cedar Waxwings vary additional south than Bohemians on common, displaying up all through southern Canada, the continental United States, Mexico, and generally Central America. Whereas Bohemian Waxwings are typically scarce and irregular south of the Canadian border, they will turn into regionally quite a few within the northern Rocky Mountains east to northern Minnesota. In years when meals is scarce, they could wander southward alongside the Rockies or into the Midwest, New York, New England, and infrequently even additional south. These southward-straying Bohemians generally be part of up with flocks of the extra frequent Cedars.

    Whenever you come throughout a flock with each species, measurement is perhaps the obvious differentiator. Cedar Waxwings are smaller, related in measurement to a big sparrow. Bohemians are practically an inch longer and twice as heavy; in flight, they could give the impression of a European Starling. Nonetheless, measurement may also deceive. A Cedar Waxwing could look bigger when flying solo or when fluffed up towards the chilly.

    Sure plumage traits supply diagnostic identification factors, too. Bohemians tackle a cooler grey tone total with a red-orange face, whereas Cedars seem sandy or tan. Bohemians even have extra intricate patterning on their wings, with extra white marks and a yellow streak operating down their major wing feathers. Lastly, and maybe most tellingly, Bohemians have rust-colored undertail coverts—the feathers that meet the tail on the fowl’s underside—whereas Cedars’ undertail coverts are white. 

    • Purple-orange face
    • Bigger total, with a cool grey tone
    • White marks and yellow stripe on wing
    • Rust-colored undertail coverts
    Bohemian Waxwing. Photograph: Silver Leapers/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    • Smaller total, with a tan or sandy tone
    • Wings lack white and yellow markings
    • White undertail coverts
    Cedar Waxwing. Photograph: Jonathan Nikkila/Audubon Images Awards

    The sexes look related in each species, however male Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings each are inclined to have extra intensive black of their chins than the females do. Males even have greater waxy pink suggestions—sure, it is really a waxy secretion—on their feathers than females, on common. Be aware that each options will be tough to discern within the subject. In the meantime, juveniles of each species are grayer and streaky, and don’t tackle their signature wingtips till they mature. It’s not completely clear what the wax wings are for, however older birds have extra of them, so it’s potential that they sign the well being, age, and social standing of birds to different members of the flock.

    The 2 birds sound related and infrequently similar, however with apply you’ll be able to often differentiate them by voice. Cedar Waxwings make extraordinarily high-pitched whistles and trills, which may sound nearly insectlike. Bohemian Waxwings typically make a extra guttural rattling trill, like a moist steel whistle. 

    Because the winter approaches and migratory birds head south, the potential for a waxwing sighting supplies a supply of pleasure and motivation to exit birding within the chilly. Hopefully you’ll be rewarded this winter with alternatives to see and examine each waxwing species, take pleasure in their antics, and achieve a deeper appreciation of those charismatic birds.

    This piece initially ran within the Winter 2022 difficulty as “What’s That Waxwing?”. To obtain our print journal, turn into a member by making a donation right this moment.