Waxwing: Bird of the Week

Published 3 Dec 2018, 11:18 GMT, Updated 5 Nov 2020, 06:04 GMT
Waxwing return from Scandinavia and Russia to spend the winter in the UK, surviving on their ...
Waxwing return from Scandinavia and Russia to spend the winter in the UK, surviving on their favourite food of berries.
Photograph by Louise Greenhorn (rspb-images.com)

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.

The waxwing tail is tipped with bright yellow and it has a small black mask around the eye.
Photograph by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

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.

This waxwing is feeding on sorbus berries.
Photograph by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

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 will fly long distances in search of food. These birds are eating berries from wild privet.
Photograph by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

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.

Read More

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us

Subscribe

  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2016 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved