Animals

Waxwing: Bird of the Week

Monday, 3 December

By Jonathan Manning

With a sound like the tinkling of sleigh bells, brightly-coloured waxwings land amongst the car park. This plump bird is slightly smaller than a starling but with an impressively sized crest. Waxwing feathers are reddish-brown with streaks of yellow, orange, white and grey in the wings. The tail is tipped with bright yellow and it sports a small black mask around the eye.

These exotic-looking birds don’t breed in the UK but fly from the boreal forests of the Taiga in Scandinavia and Russia. In some winters large numbers arrive on the east coast in search of their favourite food, red berries. These events are known as “irruptions” and occur in years when the abundance of berries is too low.

As waxwings will travel the long distances in search of food, when they find a suitable tree or bush they gorge themselves on the fruit. Our native rowan tree is their favourite food but they will happily feast on other red berries such as hawthorn, pyracantha, cotoneaster or rosehips. This means they can often be found in supermarket car parks where these types of shrubs are planted trilling to each other with their ‘sleigh bell’ calls.

Waxwings are generally not shy and you can get incredible views up close as they’re feeding. They can also be tempted into your garden by cutting apples in half and sticking them onto tree branches or even planting some berry-laden shrubs.