Immature cedar waxwings lack a lot of the clear coloration and markings of adult birds, but there are enough identifying characteristics for birders to feel confident in identifying these juvenile birds.
- Food: The diet of cedar waxwings is a good identification characteristic for both adult and juvenile birds. These birds are primarily frugivorous, and they eat a wide variety of fruits, including berries, crabapples and other fruits. Small fruits they will pick individually and swallow whole, and a flock may strip an entire tree before moving on.
- Mask: The black bandit mask is not fully formed on juvenile birds, but the angular shape is still clear. Because the mask is smaller, the white border may seem much more prominent on young birds.
- Crest: A juvenile cedar waxwing does not have the fully formed crest that adult birds will show, but the rear of the head may show ragged feathers instead. These will eventually develop into a full crest.
- Underparts: Young cedar waxwings have blurry tan or dusky streaking on their underparts that helps serve as camouflage to protect them. If the bird's feathers are ruffled, the streaks are even more blurred and may look just like tan or buff underparts.
- Lack of Red Tips: Young birds do not have the red waxy tips on their secondary feathers that mature birds show. Instead, the wings are plain gray-brown. The red tips start to appear when the birds are fully grown, and older birds typically have more red tips.
- Tail Tip: Even young cedar waxwings show the bright yellow terminal band on the tail. Because the younger birds are usually more plain and less colorful than adults, the yellow tail tip may stand out even more than on mature birds.
Identifying cedar waxwings at different ages and in different poses isn't difficult once you learn the key field marks for the species and how they compare to other songbirds. By understanding their identification characteristics, you won't have any trouble identifying active flocks of cedar waxwings.
Photo – Juvenile Cedar Waxwing © Nick Saunders