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Cedar Waxwing - Bombycilla cedrorum

Cedar Waxwing has a partial preformative molt, but no prealternate molts. Some individuals with particularly few or many waxy tips on their secondaries can be aged easily, but many are intermediate in appearance may be impossible to age beyond M-FCF (U/AHY) except in summer and fall when skull ossification can be useful until around mid-October. Aside from juveniles, sex can generally be differentiated by plumage.

Quick tips

  • Consider the overall plumage - juveniles have a whitish chin and distinct dark streaking on the underparts, whereas all older individuals have a blackish to black chin and unstreaked underparts.
  • Look at the chin and throat - except for FCJ (juveniles), this area is extensively black on males, while on females the black is restricted to the chin.
  • Count the number of secondaries with waxy tips - individuals with zero waxy tips are almost always FCF (HY/SY) birds; females with more than 3 waxy tips and males with more than 7 waxy tips are generally DCB (AHY/ASY); intermediate counts are inconclusive, but on average FCF (HY/SY) individuals have far fewer waxy tips.
  • Estimate the width of the terminal band on the tail - it is broadest (5-9 mm) on DCB (AHY/ASY) males, intermediate (3-7 mm) on FCF (HY/SY) males and DCB (AHY/ASY) females, and narrowest (1-4.5 mm) on FCF (HY/SY) females, but there is a fair amount of overlap.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2018). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.


Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: June - November)
Underparts grayish with heavy but indistinct streaking; chin whitish
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FCF - (HY/SY: September - following December)
Waxy tips often absent, but up to 3 (F) or 7 (M) possible; terminal band of tail typically very short to short (F) or short to moderate (M); black chin patch small (F) to large (M)
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DCB - (AHY/ASY: August - following December)
Waxy tips present, typically on 1-7 (F) or 3-9 (M) secondaries; terminal band of tail typically moderate (F) to broad (M); black chin patch small (F) to large (M)
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Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: June - October)
Similar to FCJ; some natal down remaining and/or juvenile flight feathers still growing in
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: September - December)
Some body feathers being replaced; occasionally also some lesser and median coverts
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: August - December)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained juvenile primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts distinctly pale and worn
No images available yet
DPB - (AHY: August - December)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts either distinctly adult (relatively dark, less worn) or intermediate
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U September - December Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY January - December In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable