Waxwings are about the size of a starling but much more colourful, they are 18cm long with a 32-35 cm wingspan and weight between 45 and 63 g. They have a pink breast and crest, a distinctive black mask and throat, a grey rump and black tail tipped with yellow and yellow and white markings on its wings. The tips of the secondary flight feathers have a series of spikes that look like bright red wax. Its plumage is described as soft looking.
The hawfinch is a similar size and colouring to the waxwing but it has a heavy looking bird with a large conical bill and no crest. It also lacks the black mask and bright colouring on the wings.
When waxwings are feeding in flocks on bushes and trees they can be mistaken for starlings but a close look will show up the colouring and crest of the waxwing.