Bird for February – Waxwing

WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulous)

The surely is one of the most handsome of birds. The size of a starling and mainly of a colour variously described as “vinaceous brown”, “cinnamon-grey” or “reddish buff”, it is easily distinguished by its prominent crest, black eye-mark and bib, yellow tipped tail and yellow edged wing feathers. On some of the secondary wing-feathers there are waxy red ‘blobs’, which give the bird its popular name.

Officially it is now known as the Bohemian waxwing. It’s not particularly associated with Bohemia; the word simply means “wandering”. Waxwings breed in the coniferous forests of Scandinavia and the Arctic “taiga”, where their main winter food is the berries of the rowan. When these are scarce, the waxwings move south, and in some winters invade Britain in large numbers. Here they feast on berries of such as hawthorn and cotoneaster, often in vast quantities – one bird is on record as eating between 600 and 1000 berries in six hours. In this country, they are often spotted, not only in the garden, but on the ornamental trees planted in supermarket car-parks.

This winter, the severe weather brought the waxwings south in flocks. They reached Sulgrave, but unfortunately the only positive evidence was the sad sight of a dead waxwing lying below a garage window against which it had flown and killed itself (the corpse is now lying in a bag in our freezer cabinet!)

Photograph by John Sheppard

Text by George Metcalfe


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