David Chapman

David Chapman explains why some years bring bumper flocks of waxwings to our shores

Every few years in Britain we experience an 'invasion' of thousands of waxwings from Scandinavia. These huge invasions of waxwings are thought to be caused by a shortage of berries in Scandinavia but this might also be compounded by a larger-than-average number of waxwings created by a successful breeding season.

On mild autumnal days waxwings might be seen fly-catching from the tops of tall trees but when it is cold they revert to berries. Their choice of food often brings them into close contact with humans. Parks, gardens and even supermarket car parks are often planted with berry-bearing shrubs and waxwings are happy to eat them. They can seem fearless of humans so it isn’t uncommon to get very close views of these stunningly beautiful birds.

The waxwing really is one of the most exquisite birds imaginable. It is about the size and shape of a starling but has an incredibly soft-looking pinkish-buff coloured plumage. The chubby appearance of the waxwing makes it well suited to the cold but it has an elegant crest and contrasting black marking around its face. Its wing and tail feathers are tipped with yellow but its name is derived from the red tips to some of its wing feathers which were said to look as if they had been dipped in sealing wax.

Through the winter the distribution of waxwings will probably change slightly. As berries are consumed they will move further south but they are always more numerous in the north, around the Midlands and down the east coast. Those of us who live in the south west have to make do with a very occasional stray bird.

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