Fruits were ripped from their stems as the ravenous flock worked to clean this tree. Sharp, hooked bills spear the red flesh as more waxwings pile into the tangle of branches. The composite flock of ~300 birds was predominately (95%) Bohemian Waxwings and the reminder were Cedar Waxwings. The game was to pick out the occasional Cedar from amongst all of those Bohemians. The casual identification workshop kept me entertained for the better part of an hour, just before inclement weather moved into the valley.
The first identifying characteristic of both waxwings is their unique waxy beads located on the tips of the secondaries of adults. The waxy substance is generally bright red. The red coloration is due to a carotenoid pigment (a pigment coming solely for the waxwings’ diet). The size of the beads increases over the course of the first few basic molts. So, waxwing is not such a creative name after all.
|Size||Slightly larger. Only useful in side by side comparison||Smaller|
|Wing Patch||Visible white||Not Present|
|Wing Spots||Yellow||Not Present|
|Voice||Deeper and harsher than Cedar||Thinner, higher pitched|
Here in Montana and for majority of the United States, there is a prevailing seasonal pattern of occurrence for these two species. Bohemian Waxwings dominate the winter numbers with a smattering of Cedar Waxwings that have stayed behind as the majority of their species moved south. During the summer months, it is almost with 100% certainty that every waxwing is a Cedar. The Bohemians have gone, for the most part, into the boreal forests of the Canada and Alaska.
The Juvenile-plumaged Cedar Waxwing
As Cedar Waxwings breed and nest quite late in the summer as to take advantage of the flush of ripening fruit, their young undertake their molt into adult plumage late as well. In fact, they may be in juvenile plumage in January, as was the case with the bird below.