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Cedar waxwings are approximately 6–7 in (15–18 cm) long and weigh roughly 30 grams. They are smaller and more brown than their close relative, the Bohemian Waxwing (which breeds farther to the north and west). These birds' most prominent feature is a small cluster of bright red feathers on the wings, a feature they share with the Bohemian Waxwing (but not the Japanese Waxwing). The tail is typically yellow or orange depending on diet. Birds that have fed on berries of introduced Eurasian honeysuckles while growing tail feathers will have darker orange-tipped tail-feathers.
Preferred habitat consists of trees at the edge of wooded areas, or "open" forests, especially those that provide access to berry sources as well as water.