Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Waxwing Winter

One of the most exciting and exotic birds you could hope to see in your garden is the Waxwing..

They are not such a long shot to make an appearance in your garden either: they are quite nomadic in nature, especially so if their food supply dries up on their home ground in Scandinavia.  Although they are insect eaters during the breeding season, the staple diet for the winter months is berries: the redder the better: Rowan, Hawthorn, Rose Hips, Cotoneaster..So if you have planted well, you might be in for a treat.

Rose hips: a feast on a bush (c. Shay Connolly)

They make a mass exodus out of the breeding grounds if there's a food crash, and irrupt in Scotland, England and Ireland after crossing the North Sea.. Once in Ireland they fairly tear around suburban parks and gardens, shopping centre car parks are often visited: they have predictable designs with berry carrying cover around the parking bays.. Waxwings will strip bushes and trees and move to the next feast.. This is likely to continue all through this winter because we have already had our first arrivals, unusually early.  About 130 birds have been reported so far in Ireland, with more recorded off our north and west coasts, again unusual: the arrival point is usually in the east and north east with Belfast and Dublin usually first in line for a flock.

The largest flock so far was of 25 birds on remote Tory Island, off county Donegal, at the end of October with 20 at Mulranny in Co Mayo, 16 on Arranmore, Co Donegal and  11 in Ballysadare in County Sligo.

The largest flock in Dublin, so far, was a report of 12 on the Old Airport Road on 10th November.

With the immaculate plumage and details that a hat designer would trot out for Derby day, they have some great physiological adaptations, designed to handle and process the vast quantities of berries they consume:

They've got the X Factor:  Jedward of the bird world! (c.John Fox)

Though there gut is well adapted to deal with berries, often a touch fermented after frost, typsy Waxwings can collide with windows, as witnessed in Dublin some years back when birds frequently hit the glass windows while negotiating a flight around the Eircom building in St. Stephens Green, which  had some excellent Rowan trees with berries, late in the season.

The toxins that build up during consumption of so many berries are secreted out of the birds system, which leads to a hard red bar developing on the plumage, leading to the name Waxwing, after its close likeness to sealing wax.  This bar is only present on adult birds who consume and secrete huge amounts of berries and toxins,in time.

Waxwing flocks will suddenly leave berry bearing foliage to seek a rest or simply digest their food, perching on telephone wires or leafless trees: Rotund and cuddly looking, they are very similar to Starlings in flight, so check those darting flocks!

Finally, the charm is well finished off with an attractive call: sounds like a high pitched tinkling of small bells, very distinctive as they come and go about their business.
Mascara perfectly applied: lipstick slipped though! (c. Dave Suddaby)

If you see Waxwings this winter, please let us know, we all need brightening up at this time of year!

1 comment:

  1. Great post, just had three of these guys show up today in the front garden.
    Beautiful looking birds hope they call again (and will not get run by the neighbors cat).